Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;   president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org


December 2017 Conservation Notes


Florida Friendly Yards: Lessons from Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1949) was a forester, professor, ecologist and philosopher/essayist of natural history and biotic communities. One of his principal works was A Sand County Almanac (1949) which explored what Leopold termed a “land ethic.”  This book is one of the basic teaching and guiding texts for the multiple generations of conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists that have been influenced by his work and writings.


Early on in his life Leopold had noted that remaking lands, rivers and marshes that for millennia had supported communities in which plants and animals thrived prompted a great feeling of loss for those who explored, hunted and fished in these areas.   As he wrote in an early foreword to A Sand County Almanac:

"I came home [from boarding school] one Christmas to find that land promoters, with the help of the Corps of Engineers, had diked and drained my boyhood hunting grounds on the Mississippi river bottoms…. My hometown thought the community enriched by this change. I thought it impoverished."

Later on, when he completed the final foreword to this influential book, Leopold summed up this feeling about the de-Naturing of land that he saw all about him which was occurring through such actions as draining marshes or using up farmland through overgrazing and crop-growing techniques which depleted soil without replenishing it:  “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Leopold also noted the negative effects that our technologies can have on the natural world and the need to apply something more than “machinery” to the task of living within the biotic community in a mindful and cherishing manner:  

"Our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides, but they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history, to live on a piece of land without spoiling it. (“Engineering and Conservation”, The River of the Mother of God)"

In his latter life Leopold was a professor of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin, and he actively worked to apply his “land ethic” principles. In 1935 he purchased 80 acres of overgrazed, overlogged and poorly farmed land in Saux County near Baraboo, WI and began the years-long process of restoring the biotic communities that once thrived there.  For many seasons afterward, Leopold, his wife and his five children worked to restore this “played-out” land. Over the years they planted 40,000 trees and thousands of native plants.  They also continued to purchase and restore adjoining acreage. The once near-barren famed-out lands are now a thriving domain of forests, meadows and streams.  Presently, the nearly 300 acres of the farm is managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation as the Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm, and is open to the public.

Leopold’s localized restoration was carried out by one man and his family over years.  But, as he noted, there wasn’t much required to do this creative, land-honoring and nurturing work:

"Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. (“Pines Above the Snow”, A Sand County Almanac)"

Following Leopold’s advice, we can apply his recognitions of a deep and creative connection to the land.  We can plant and maintain yards that are Florida-friendly; we can support legislation such as the Florida Land and Water Legacy Act and Florida Forever with our tax dollars and advocacy; and we can support laws forbidding oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and offshore oil and gas drilling in the State of Florida. All these actions, and more, flow from acknowledging that we are embedded within and nurtured by Nature, and we must recognize this connection if we are to thrive in a living world.

Note:  An excellent on-line resource for identifying plants that are supportive of birds is http://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds.

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When we hear [the] call [of the Sandhill Crane] we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men. (Aldo Leopold, “Marshland Elegy”, A Sand County Almanac)


Lamont Ingalls

Conservation Chair