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The Land Ethic

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”- Aldo Leopold

Published in 1949 as the finale to A Sand County Almanac, Leopold’s ‘Land Ethic’ defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement.

Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.”

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

This recognition, according to Leopold, implies individuals play an important role in protecting and preserving the health of this expanded definition of a community.

“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.”

Central to Leopold’s philosophy is the assertion to “quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem.” While recognizing the influence economics have on decisions, Leopold understood that ultimately, our economic well being could not be separated from the well being of our environment. Therefore, he believed it was critical that people have a close personal connection to the land.

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

Download printable Land Ethic Fact Sheet (2-page pdf file)