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A Lesson in Balance

Through his writing, Aldo Leopold left a legacy of conservation knowledge and philosophy to inspire future generations. In its second year, the Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest has challenged high school students to study a selection of Leopold’s writings and respond to a related question or writing prompt. This year students were invited to read Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” essay from A Sand County Almanac and tell the story of a local leader who exemplifies Leopold’s land ethic.

In partnership with the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and sponsors, Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation and CTI Meeting Technology, we are pleased to share with you the 2017 winning essays in a series of posts here on the Building a Land Ethic blog.

A Lesson in Balance

By Paul Kalifatidi
Grade 12, Verona Area High School

Ice caps melting, air becoming toxic, dying forests, and unprecedented rates of extinction… are human issues. Yet, an inconceivable and conceited belief that climate change is a hoax, a lie, and something not worth our attention plagues much of this country’s population. At this point in natural history, land ethic has never been more important for the health of the Earth and the tight-knit community of fish, reptiles, insects, plants, mammals, and humans who inhabit it. Sustainability should not be viewed in terms of humanity, but rather it should be understood that there will be no humanity if we do not care for every living thing that crawls, swims, flies, and walks upon this planet’s surface.

I learned this from many people and experiences, but the most inspirational voice belongs to my AP Environmental Science teacher, Mr. Tiller. Yes, his class is about the environment and the way humans are part of it, but he takes it a step further. He takes what he teaches us in the classroom, and makes us apply it outside. Currently, he is heading an effort to improve the stormwater management system of our town – Verona, Wisconsin. Mr. Tiller is trying to modify the current system to be more both effective at controlling stormwater while also providing essential environmental services such as water filtration and habitat for animals. To date, Mr. Tiller and his classes have modified two of the main storm water detention ponds in our town, turning them from unsightly puddles into thriving ponds teeming with life.

Surrounding the ponds, which are now deep enough to sustain life during the winter, we planted prairies of native Wisconsin plants. These prairies serve as a habitat for beautiful flowers, but more importantly, they filter incoming rainwater, reduce soil erosion, and provide homes for yellow garden spiders, garter snakes, moles, field mice, and insects. Every year, these prairies are burned to replicate the natural cycle of life and fire that occurs on the great plains. In a study comparing the biodiversity of these “natural” ponds to the yet unmodified ponds, the natural ponds contained 23 species, including fish, as opposed to the five species found in the unmodified ponds. Fish are an indicator that the natural ponds are extremely healthy and have sufficient oxygen levels to maintain high biodiversity.

Mr. Tiller has taught countless students that the world does not belong to humans. We are just one species living amongst millions of others. Sadly, we are making it a struggle of life and death for many species to survive. This is why Mr. Tiller is improving our town’s stormwater system. He wants to create a much-needed haven for biodiversity, but still provide the infrastructure needed by the town. He has taken the philosophy of the land ethic and has passed it on to his students.

Paul Kalifatidi bio picPaul Kalifatidi is a senior at Verona Area High School in Verona, Wisconsin. At home, he keeps aquariums and spends his free time fishing, rock climbing, hiking, and spending as much time as possible outside. The outdoors are his home; a place of endless entertainment and serenity. Next year, Paul will be majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Feature photo, Purple Coneflower, courtesy of USFWSmidwest / CC BY 2.0

Explore the rest of the winning essays!

Links will become available for the other winning essays as they are published to the blog. Check back throughout the summer!