What does it mean to be a conservationist?
Submitted by Dana Schmelzle, Nemaha County Conservation District
What does it mean to be a conservationist? In our world today, an act of putting in terraces or cover crops may qualify, but I believe it means more than that. No one better sums up conservation, than Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology.
“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an ax. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land,” said Aldo Leopold in “A Sand County Almanac.”
A conservationist stands apart as one with the gift of awareness; the awareness that each piece of our ecosystem has its purpose, that we (humans) are not exempt from this system, and that we do not equate to God. As land managers, we are faced with many decisions, but a conservationist will understand that an effect is not singular and every choice we make will have a consequence on the system, whether good, bad or both.
A conservationist is one who accepts themselves as a part of the land with the understanding that each organism, no matter its size or amount of thorns, is a part of the whole.
“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’” Leopold said.
A conservationist doesn’t try to fight nature, but understands that in order to profit, one must work with the land.
Leopold said, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.”
A conservationist understands that his pockets are not bottomless and makes the best decisions possible based on what is best for the land, while still economically beneficial.
“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient,” Leopold said. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
A conservationist is a person with grit. They do not choose the easiest road, nor are they afraid to do what they believe best regardless of what their neighbors may think. They choose the ethical high road.
“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching — even when doing the wrong thing is legal,” Leopold said.
Lastly, being a conservationist is about choice. We are all presented the choice to play an active, positive role in our ecosystem. The final choice is whether we will put those thoughts into action.