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The River of the Mother of God

and other Essays by Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold; Edited by J. Baird Callicott and Susan L. Flader

Publication Year: 1992

His name is inextricably linked with a single work, A Sand County Almanac, a classic of natural history literature and the conservationist's bible. This book brings together the best of Leopold's essays.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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pp. ix-xii

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is best known as the author of a slender volume of natural history vignettes and philosophical essays dealing with the relationship of people to land. Composed during the last decade of his life and published posthumously in 1949, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There expresses the distilled essence of Leopold's mature thought. ...


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pp. viii-xv

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pp. 3-32

Aldo Leopold's writing was remarkably wide-ranging. He addressed a broad spectrum of topics and mastered a number of literary genres. Nevertheless, almost all of Leopold's diverse interests as well as his varied professional career orbited around a stable center, land conservation, and the condensed essay was his preferred and perfected medium of expression. Throughout his life, Leopold ...

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A Tramp in November [1904]

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pp. 33-36

On a certain morning of that good old month, November, the sun was rising with even more than his usual alacrity. For old Sol had been accused of oversleeping of late, and wanted to justify himself; moreover he likes work like any good man, and Jack Frost had been giving him a plenty of it. Nor was it missing on this particular morning, for lo! no sooner had his rays ...

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The Maintenance of Forests [1904]

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pp. 37-39

It has become a generally recognized fact that wood is, and will continue to be, one of the necessaries of life. In spite of the progress and the possibilities of science, all who have given the subject consideration, say that wood is indispensible to our welfare, and that no substitute is likely to be found for it. Furthermore we know that the lumber supply of our country, once ...

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The Busy Season [1911]

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p. 40-40

From time to time Leopold tried his hand at verse, especially early in his career when he was stimulated by fellow rhymesters in the fledgling Forest Service. The esprit and camaraderie of the service as well as its utilitarian emphasis are illustrated by this bit of doggerel that Leopold inserted unsigned into a mimeographed monthly staff bulletin that he initiated in 1911, when he transferred from the ...

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To the Forest Officers of the Carson [1913]

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pp. 41-46

Leopold was supervisor of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico when he was stricken in April 1913 with acute nephritis, the result of exposure during severe weather on a field trip in a remote district. He returned to his parents' home in Burlington, Iowa, for what would ultimately extend to eighteen months of recuperation. From there he penned the first of four letters to his staff that were printed ...

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The Varmint Question [1915]

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pp. 47-48

For some unfathomable reason, there appears to have been a kind of feeling of antagonism between men interested in game protection and between some individuals connected with the stock growing industry. There have been some very notable exceptions to this rule, particularly among the stockmen themselves. It would, for instance, be a fair statement to say that ...

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The Popular Wilderness Fallacy: An Idea That Is Fast Exploding [1918]

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pp. 49-52

When the pioneer hewed a path for progress through the American wilderness, there was bred into the American people the idea that civilization and forests were two mutually exclusive propositions. Development and forest destruction went hand in hand; we therefore adopted the fallacy that they were synonymous. A stump was our symbol of progress. ...

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Forestry and Game Conservation [1918]

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pp. 53-59

The technical education of the American forester aims principally to teach him how to raise and use timber. This is obviously proper. Handling timber lands is his major function. But when the forester begins actual work on a forest he is called upon to solve a much broader problem. He is charged with the duty of putting land ...

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Notes on the Behavior of Pintail Ducks in a Hailstorm [1919]

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pp. 60-61

On October 20,1918, I was hunting ducks on the Rio Grande south of Los Lunas, New Mexico. I was sitting in my blind on a sandbar, with some dead ducks set out as decoys, when a very severe hailstorm set in. During the thick of the storm I discovered that a flock of about forty Pintail Ducks (Dafila acuta) had settled among my decoys not twenty yards distant. Each bird was ...

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Wild Lifers vs. Game Farmers: A Plea for Democracy in Sport [1919]

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pp. 62-67

In the general field of American sportsmanship three things are certain: 1. There has been a general and growing scarcity of game all over the United States. 2. This decrease has not so far been checked on any considerable scale, except in the single case of waterfowl. Waterfowl have shown a perceptible response to the Federal Migratory Bird Law. ...

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"Piute Forestry" vs. Forest Fire Prevention [1920]

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pp. 68-70

Southwestern mining men and southwestern foresters have many common interests. The National Forests supply timber and water used by miners, while the mines are one of the important sources of prosperity in the National Forest communities. For this reason southwestern mining men may be interested in a new problem which now confronts the administrators of ...

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The Forestry of the Prophets [1920]

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pp. 71-77

Who discovered forestry? The heretofore accepted claims of the European nations have of late been hotly disputed by the Piutes. I now beg leave to present a prior claim for the children of Israel. I can hardly state that they practiced forestry, but I believe it can be shown that they knew a lot about forests. (Also, if any of them set fires, they knew better than to admit it.) The ...

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The Wilderness and Its Place in Forest Recreational Policy [1921]

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pp. 78-81

When the National Forests were created the first argument of those opposing a national forest policy was that the forests would remain a wilderness. Gifford Pinchot replied that on the contrary they would be opened up and developed as producing forests, and that such development would, in the long run, itself constitute the best assurance that they would neither remain a ...

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Standards of Conservation [1922]

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pp. 82-85

The setting of standards to correlate methods and practices has now become a familiar and successful feature of administration on the National Forests. Such standards have proven a simple and effective means of detecting and ironing out the discrepancies in the intensiveness with which similar work is done in separate places, and the relative emphasis given various lines of work. ...

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Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the Southwest [1923]

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pp. 86-97

The future development of the Southwest must depend largely on the follow-ing resources and advantages: Minerals: chiefly copper and coal. Organic: farms, ranges, forests, waters and water powers. Climatic: chiefly health and winter resort possibilities. Historic: archaeological and historical interest. Geographic: on route to California and Mexico.

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A Criticism of the Booster Spirit [1923]

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pp. 98-105

When the historians of the future write the story of our generation, the growth and spread of the Booster spirit will, I think, rank as one of the outstanding phenomena of the twentieth century. Boosterism is not as yet firmly established in any country but our own. Perhaps it will not be. But it is an undeniable fact that it touches the daily ...

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Pioneers and Gullies [1924]

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pp. 106-113

Pioneering a new country is hard labor. It has absorbed the best brawn and brains of the Nordic race since before the dawn of history. Anthropologists tell us that we, the Nordics, have a racial genius for pioneering, surpassing all other races in ability to reduce the wilderness to possession. But if we saw a Nordic settler perspiring profusely to put a new field ...

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Grass, Brush, Timber, and Fire in Southern Arizona [1924]

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pp. 114-122

One of the first things which a forester hears when he begins to travel among the cow-camps of the southern Arizona foothills is the story of how the brush has "taken the country." At first he is inclined to classify this with the legend, prevalent among the old timers of some of the northern states, about the hard winters that occurred years ago. The belief in the encroachment of ...

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The River of the Mother of God [1924]

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pp. 123-127

I am conscious of a considerable personal debt to the continent of South America. It has given me, for instance, rubber for motor tires, which have carried me to lonely places on the face of Mother Earth where all her ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. ...

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Conserving the Covered Wagon [1925]

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pp. 128-132

One evening I was talking to a settler in one of those irrigated valleys that stretch like a green ribbon across the colorful wastes of southern Arizona. He was showing me his farm, and he was proud of it. Broad acres of alfalfa bloom, fields of ripening grain, and a dip and a sweep of laden orchards redolent of milk and honey, all created with the labor of his own hands. Over ...

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The Pig in the Parlor [1925]

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p. 133-133

In the May 11 Service Bulletin there is an item from D-6 which says in effect that the "wild-life enthusiasts" need not fret about the invasion of wilderness areas by roads, because in Germany there is a mile of dirt road for every 105 acres of forest, and a mile of hard road for every 220 acres of forest. Germany, it says, spends up to 35 cents per acre per year for forest roads, and ...

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Wilderness as a Form of Land Use [1925]

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pp. 134-142

From the earliest times one of the principal criteria of civilization has been the ability to conquer the wilderness and convert it to economic use. To deny the validity of this criterion would be to deny history. But because the conquest of wilderness has produced beneficial reactions on social, political, and economic development, we have set up, more or less unconsciously, the ...

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The Home Builder Conserves [1928]

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pp. 143-147

It has been known for years that our processes for converting forest trees into houses, furniture, implements, newspapers and a thousand other necessary wooden products were wasteful, but nobody knew, for the country as a whole, just how wasteful or just why. But the Forest Products Laboratory of the United States Forest Service, which has been working since 1910 on the ...

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Ho! Compadres Pi

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pp. 148-149

This paean to the pinon jay appeared in Forest Fire and Other Verse, a second volume of Forest Service doggerel edited by Leopold's dose friend, John D. Guthrie. Inspired perhaps by one of Leopold's bow-and-arrow hunting trips to the Gila Wilderness in the late 1920s, the poem reveals his longing for the Southwest, which he felt especially during his years of desk-bound exile in the Forest Products ...

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Report to the American Game Conference on an American Game Policy [1930]

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pp. 150-155

Demand for hunting is outstripping supply. If hunting as a recreation is to continue, game production must be increased. Where? How? By whom? For whom? These are the questions with which a game policy must deal. In the case of ordinary economic products, the free play of economic forces automatically adjusts supply to demand. ...

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Game Methods: The American Way [1931]

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pp. 156-163

The game policy adopted by the 1930 American Game Conference begins with this assertion: With rare exceptions, the landholder is not yet practicing management. There are three ways to induce him to do so: 1. Buy him out, and become the landowner. ...

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Game and Wild Life Conservation [1932]

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pp. 164-168

This is a reply to Mr. T. T. McCabe's well written and persuasive expose of two recent manifestations of the sportsman's movement: my Game Survey of the North Central States, and the several publications issued by More Game Birds in America. Both are, I take it, inclusively condemned as "a framework of pernicious doctrines, too often speciously glossed over." ...

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Grand-Opera Game [1932]

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pp. 169-172

It has been aptly said that pheasant shooting is a good show, but quail and prairie chicken are grand opera. This implies that there is a big spread in the price of tickets. Sometimes there is, but with the right management on the right land, arid enough of it, a quail or chicken crop may be quite as inexpensive as one of lowly pheasants. ...

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The Virgin Southwest [1933]

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pp. 173-180

The major premise of civilization is that the attainments of one generation shall be available to the next. Some social sciences, by their very nature, cast doubt upon the validity of this premise. Archeology, for example, describes an endless caravan of societies, now dead, for whom it did not hold true. On the other hand the art ...

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The Conservation Ethic [1933]

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pp. 181-192

When god-like Odysseus returned from the wars in Troy, he hanged all on one rope some dozen slave-girls of his household whom he suspected of misbehavior during his absence. This hanging involved no question of propriety, much less of justice. The girls were property. The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong. ...

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Conservation Economics [1934]

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pp. 193-202

The moon, they say, was born when some mighty planet, zooming aimlessly through the firmament, happened to pass so near the earth as to lift off a piece of its substance and hurl it forth into space as a new and separate entity in the galaxy of heavenly bodies. Conservation, I think, was "born" in somewhat this same manner in the ...

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Helping Ourselves [1934]

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pp. 203-208

The senior author of this narrative is a sportsman who had grown tired of asking suspicious farmers for permission to hunt, hike or train dogs on gameless farms. The junior author is a farmer who had grown tired of spending his Sundays ejecting miscellaneous unpermitted "rabbit hunters" from his quail coverts. ...

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The Arboretum and the University [1934]

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pp. 209-211

For twenty centuries and longer, all civilized thought has rested upon one basic premise: that it is the destiny of man to exploit and enslave the earth. The biblical injunction to "go forth and multiply" is merely one of many dogmas which imply this attitude of philosophical imperialism. During the past few decades, however, a new science called ecology has ...

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Land Pathology [1935]

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pp. 212-217

The properties of animal and plant populations are now to some extent known. Their interactions with environment are becoming predictable. Ecological predictions are made with such certainty as to be used daily in farm, factory, and hospital. The properties of human populations and their interactions with land ...

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Coon Valley: An Adventure in Cooperative Conservation [1935]

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pp. 218-223

There are two ways to apply conservation to land. One is to superimpose some particular practice upon the pre-existing system of land-use, without regard to how it fits or what it does to or for other interests involved. The other is to reorganize and gear up the farming, forestry, game cropping, erosion control, scenery, or whatever values may be involved so ...

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Review of Elton, Exploring the Animal World [1935]

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pp. 224-225

Exploring the Animal World. By Charles Elton, Director of the Bureau of Animal Populations, University of Oxford. George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., Museum St., London, 1933. Sciences, like lodges, luncheon clubs, and legions, tend to become mutual admiration societies. One quiet form of mutual flattery prevalent in scientific groups is the tacit assumption by each that its particular subject ...

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Wilderness [1935]

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pp. 226-229

To an American conservationist, one of the most insistent impressions received from travel in Germany is the lack of wildness in the German landscape. Forests are there-interminable miles of them, spires of spruce on the skyline, glowering thickets in ravines, and many a quick glimpse "where the yellow pines are marching straight and stalwart up the hillside where they ...

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Threatened Species [1936]

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pp. 230-234

The volume of effort expended on wildlife conservation shows a large and sudden increase. This effort originates from diverse courses, and flows through diverse channels toward diverse ends. There is a widespread realization that it lacks coordination and focus. Government is attempting to secure coordination and focus through ...

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Means and Ends in Wild Life Management [1936]

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pp. 235-238

When a member of a scientific group tries to uproot himself and describe his own undertakings with the objective pen of a spectator the task is liable to put quite a strain both on his modesty and on his sense of humor. Sometimes he exceeds the elastic limit of these somewhat friable materials. Hence, out of caution, I will claim no importance for the new profession ...

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Conservationist in Mexico [1937]

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pp. 239-244

The predatory Apache of our Southwest was early rounded up and confined in reservations, whereas across the line in Mexico he was, until his recent near-extinction, allowed to run at large. Therefore our southwestern mountains are now badly gutted by erosion, whereas the Sierra Madre range across the line still retains the virgin stability of its soils and all the natural ...

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Chukaremia [1938]

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pp. 245-246

Sportsmen, as well as rabbits, have their cycles of disease. Tularemia discolors the rabbit's liver, but Chukaremia distorts the sportsman's point of view. A rabbit recovering from tularemia becomes immune to reinfection, but few sportsmen ever become immune to the idea that foreign game birds are the answer to the "more game" problem. ...

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Letter to a Wildflower Digger [1938]

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pp. 247-248

This letter is addressed, through the columns of the State Journal, to that unknown person who last week dug up the only remaining yellow ladyslipper in the Wingra woods. While your name is unknown, your action sufficiently portrays the low estate of either your character or your education. On the chance that the latter rather than the former is at fault, I address to you this letter. I address it ...

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Engineering and Conservation [1938]

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pp. 249-254

The public mind is a mirror into which every vocation reflects its image. That image may flatter its subject, or the contrary, depending upon accumulated public impressions of the group and how its members live, think, and work. A decade ago the public image of labor was a rather pleasing one. Since the advent of CIO it has become much harder to look at. ...

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The Farmer as a Conservationist [1939]

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pp. 255-265

Conservation means harmony between men and land. When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation. When one or the other grows poorer, we do not. Few acres in North America have escaped impoverishment through human use. If someone were to map the continent for gains and losses in soil ...

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A Biotic View of Land [1939]

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pp. 266-273

In pioneering times wild plants and animals were tolerated, ignored, or fought, the attitude depending on the utility of the species. Conservation introduced the idea that the more useful wild species could be managed as crops, but the less useful ones were ignored and the predaceous ones fought, just as in pioneering days. Conservation lowered the ...

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New Year's Inventory Checks Missing Game [1940]

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pp. 274-275

Some Sunday in January when the tracking is good, I like to stroll over my acres and make mental note of the birds and mammals whose sign ought to be there, but isn't. One appreciates what is left only after realizing how much has already disappeared. Every large Wisconsin woodlot, for example, ought to show the mincing ...

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The State of the Profession [1940]

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pp. 276-280

One of the ironies frequent in history is a group of men attempting one thing and accomplishing another. We are attempting to manage wildlife, but it is by no means certain that we shall succeed, or that this will be our most important contribution to the design for living. For example, we may, without knowing it, be helping to write a new definition of what science is for. ...

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Ecology and Politics [1941]

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pp. 281-286

Ecology tries to understand the interactions between living things and their environment. Every living thing represents an equation of give and take. Man or mouse, oak or orchid, we take a livelihood from our land and our fellows, and give in return an endless succession of acts and thoughts, each of which changes us, our fellows, our land, and its capacity to yield us a further ...

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Wilderness as a Land Laboratory [1941 ]

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pp. 287-289

The recreational value of wilderness has been often and ably presented, but its scientific value is as yet but dimly understood. This is an attempt to set forth the need of wilderness as a base-datum for problems of land-health. The most important characteristic of an organism is that capacity for internal self-renewal known as health. ...

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The Last Stand [1942]

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pp. 290-294

Sometime in 1943 or 1944 an axe will bite into the snowy sapwood of a giant maple. On the other side of the same tree a crosscut saw will talk softly, spewing sweet sawdust into the snow with each repetitious syllable. Then the giant will lean, groan, and crash to earth: the last merchantable tree of the last merchantable forty of the last virgin hardwood forest of any ...

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Land-Use and Democracy [1942]

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pp. 295-300

Conservation education appeared, before December 7, to be making consid-erable headway. Now, against a background of war, it looks like a milk-and-water affair. War has defined the issue: we must prove that democracy can use its land decently. At our present rate of progress we might arrive at decent land-use a century or two hence. That is too little and too late. ...

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The Role of Wildlife in a Liberal Education [1942]

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pp. 301-305

Most of the wildlife education so far attempted is that designed to teach professionals how to do their job. I here discuss another kind: that aimed to teach citizens the function of wildlife in the land organism. The two kinds contrast sharply in their war status. Perhaps the output of professionals is now excessive, even if there were no war. On the other ...

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What Is a Weed? [1943]

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pp. 306-309

To live in harmony with plants is, or should be, the ideal of good agriculture. To call every plant a weed which cannot be fed to livestock or people is, I fear, the actual practice of agricultural colleges. I am led to this baleful conclusion by a recent perusal of The Weed Flora of Iowa, one of the authoritative works on the identification and control of weed pests.1

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Conservation: In Whole or in Part? [1944]

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pp. 310-319

There are two kinds of conservationists, and two systems of thought on the subject. One kind feels a primary interest in some one aspect of land (such as soil, forestry, game, or fish) with an incidental interest in the land as a whole. The other feels a primary interest in the land as a whole, with incidental interest in its component resources. ...

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Review of Young and Goldman, The Wolves of North America [1945]

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pp. 320-322

This book is notable, not only as the outstanding contemporary treatise on an outstanding animal, but as a mirror which reflects the thought of our generation on a wide gamut of conservation problems. The book consists of two parts, treating successively of the ecology of the wolf, and his taxonomy. This review does not purport to cover the ...

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The Outlook for Farm Wildlife [1945]

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pp. 323-326

Twenty years have passed since Herbert Stoddard, in Georgia, started the first management of wildlife based on research. During those two decades management has become a profession with expanding personnel, techniques, research service, and funds. The colored pins of management activity puncture the map of almost every state. ...

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Review of Farrington, The Ducks Came Back [1946]

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pp. 327-320

In this book a persuasive writer (Mr. Farrington) talks to an uncritical audience (the duck hunters) about an important conservation problem (the restoration of waterfowl). His argument is accompanied by soft music, in form of Lynn Bogue Hunt sketches and also excellent photos of the always-photogenic ducks. ...

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Adventures of a Conservation Commissioner [1946]

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pp. 330-335

After helping to set up several Commissions and serving on one, I have come to two conclusions. The first is that a good Commission can prevent the conservation program from falling below the general level of popular ethics and intelligence. The second is that no Commission can raise its program much above that level, except in matters to which the public is indifferent. Where the...

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Wherefore Wildlife Ecology? [1947]

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pp. 336-337

At the beginning of this course I did not try to define its object, because any attempt at definition would at that time have consisted of meaningless words. I shall now confide in you what the course is driving at. The object is to teach you how to read land. Land is soil, water, plants and animals. Each of these "organs" of land has meaning as a separate entity, ...

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The Ecological Conscience [1947]

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pp. 338-348

Everyone ought to be dissatisfied with the slow spread of conservation to the land: Our "progress" still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. The only progress that counts is that on the actual landscape of the back forty, and here we are still slipping two steps backward for each forward stride. ...


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pp. 349-370


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pp. 371-384

E-ISBN-13: 9780299127633
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299127640

Publication Year: 1992