Throughout the first six months of my fellowship at the Leopold Foundation, Aldo’s notion that “one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds” certainly feels like a reality some days. I wonder if we have done enough to begin healing the land here in Wisconsin and beyond. Do enough people care about this planet and the life it supports to enhance and evolve our collective relationship with the land? How can we connect people to land upon which they stand when they have the world at their fingertips?
In the days leading up to the new year, we have time to celebrate with family and friends, reflect on how to better ourselves and our communities in the coming twelve months, and an opportunity to build upon the success of the previous twelve. The environmental challenges facing us around the globe are daunting, and the need for dynamic, effectual solutions only grows more immediate. However, as the new year approaches, I hope you take this moment with me to appreciate some conservation successes of 2021, and let it inspire you, strengthening your commitment to a more harmonious relationship with land.
The skies above the Leopold Shack and Farm were graced with thousands of sandhill cranes late this fall. Nearly hunted to extinction, the sandhill crane success story now trumpets from our backyard, and people around the globe are witnessing species bounce back from the precipice of extinction as well. The Iberian Lynx, once the world’s most endangered feline, with just under 100 individuals remaining in 2002, has eclipsed a population of 1,000 in 2021 (Bell). This incredible comeback is partly thanks to federal protection and captive breeding programs in Spain & Portugal, but could not have succeeded without concerted effort to change farmers’ perception of this cat, from a pest, to an integral member of the ecological community.
Biodiversity and endangered species cannot be protected without first addressing the issues that are driving their populations down in the first place. The current White House administration understands this fact, and has pledged that 30% of land and coastal waters in the United States ought to be protected by the end of the decade (Phillips and Xia). Governors of major states, including California, agreed to this pledge and committed to the initiative. This major undertaking will be actualized through many legislative pathways, involving several federal agencies, and the work is already underway. In 2021, The USDA partnered with private landowners to “protect an area the size of New Jersey”, roughly five million acres, specifically targeting wetlands, grasslands, and farmland that would otherwise be degraded (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
We see this shift in mindset and commend it, doing our part here in Wisconsin as well. The Aldo Leopold Foundation has partnered with environmental groups in the state, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin to seed several acres of prairie that will provide optimal habitat for priority bird species such as the Henslow’s Sparrow and redheaded woodpecker. Despite the pandemic’s effect on our lives, we have brought over 1,400 people to this historic site, encouraging them to witness the effects of prescribed burning and invasive species management, all while engaging many more thousands in virtual programming to cement the importance of the land ethic in their hearts and minds.
I may not have the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this piece, but I do know that there is a community across the world taking action to stem the tide of environmental degradation, change the way people interact with the land and conserve the beauty of this planet for generations to come. I know also, however, that there is much more work to be done. As we wrap up 2021 and look hopefully to 2022, I urge you to take action on these issues of environment and any other cause for which you are passionate. Whether it is through financial support, volunteering your time, or spreading a worthwhile message, it’s true what they say, there is no better time than now.
“In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.” Aldo Leopold
Happy New Year,
Land Stewardship Fellow 2021-22
We are excited and honored to share that another family that loves the land—the Salzwedel Family—will increase your investment in the Land Ethic when you support the essential work of the Aldo Leopold Foundation now through December 31!
“It gives Sarah and me great satisfaction to contribute to the essential work of this foundation, propagating Leopold’s Land Ethic and, in 2022-23, preserving the Leopold Shack and Farm for future generations!” —Jack Salzwedel
Jack and Sarah Salzwedel have generously provided a $25,000 matching gift to amplify your investment in a land ethic!
Bell, Olivia. “Top 10 Conservation Good News Stories of 2021 so Far.” Bloom in Doom, Bloom in Doom, 4 June 2021, https://www.bloomindoom.com/environment/top-10-conservation-good-news-2021-june.
Phillips, Ana M, and Rosanna Xia. “Biden Administration Looks to Triple Amount of Protected Land in the U.S.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 6 May 2021, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-05-06/biden-administration-announces-plans-to-triple-protected.
“USDA Recognizes 5 Million Acres Enrolled in Conservation Easements.” USDA Press Releases, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2021/04/02/usda-recognizes-5-million-acres-enrolled-conservation-easements.