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Featured Article | Spring 2017: Cranes

Valuing Wild Things

By Buddy Huffaker

There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. –Aldo Leopold, “Foreward,” A Sand County Almanac (1949)

If you are struggling with the hostile and divisive atmosphere around politics generally, and specifically around conservation and environmental issues, it may be reassuring to remember that Leopold was facing great indifference to the concept of a land ethic during his life too.  He opened A Sand County Almanac with the stark recognition that not everyone values “wild things.” In these periods of angst, voices like Leopold take on even more value because they help calibrate our own moral compasses and remind us that others fought through the challenges of their own times in order to bring positive change for future generations.

In This Issue

Our lead article “Little Brown Icarus,” by the tireless and talented conservationist J. Drew Lanham, reminds us of just how important role models are and that we need to consciously cultivate more paths to help everyone find and then fulfill a connection with nature.  Also featured in this issue is an interview with Les Stroud, known to most as “Survivorman,” who himself uses multiple mediums and talents to reach audiences. He challenges people to simply “connect with nature.” Les believes that starting with that simple step “will give you the information you need for effective living.”  Join us for the upcoming Building a Land Ethic conference this June to see Les’s inspiring performance!

Cranes were a powerful metaphor for Leopold of “wildness” and its vulnerability in the face of a society that did not recognize its interdependence with nature.  Stan Temple recounts one of our modern conservation success stories – the sandhill crane – and the new ethical debate around the recovered species.  The successes outlined in Stan’s piece are put into better context when you read Leopold’s own “Marshland Elegy,” penned at a time when Leopold was predicting that sandhill cranes would likely become extinct.

"Sandhill Crane Standing at Nest"

Painted by Owen J. Gromme in 1956 as a gift to his son, “Sandhill Crane Standing at Nest” is just one of his many incredible representations of birds. Gromme said his works were his attempts to “say with paint what Aldo Leopold so beautifully said with words.”

Cranes have inspired cultures all over the world to take note of their stature, beauty, and startling call, but in Wisconsin, the awe and appreciation seem to run particularly deep.  Famed wildlife artist Owen Gromme was a colleague and contemporary of Leopold’s and was equally moved by sandhill cranes, featuring them in several of his most notable paintings which now hang in libraries, hospitals, offices, and living rooms all over the Midwest.  The origin and history of a totally unique and little known Gromme painting now on display at the Leopold Center are conveyed in Madeline Fisher’s article, “Owen J. Gromme Painting Finds a New Home.”  Come see this gem and a new exhibit on sandhill cranes at our visitor center!  This exhibit celebrates the recovery of the crane, just one of several of grassland bird species that benefit as a result of the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area featured in “The Leopold Atlas.”  Steve Swenson, Mike Mossman, and Yoyi Steele, the leadership of the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area, chronicle how neighbors and partners are working across 15,000 acres of private and publicly owned land surrounding the historic Leopold Shack to improve habitat for grassland bird populations that are at historic lows across the upper Midwest.

Metallic green sweat bee

Metallic green sweat bee. Photo courtesy of Kiley Friedrich, University of Minnesota Bee Lab.

In the “Backyard Almanac,” we are reminded of the importance of the overall integrity of the biological community to human health and well-being by looking at some of our smallest fellow citizens: bees—and in particular native bees.  For the first time ever a bee species, the rusty patched bumblebee, was officially added to the list of endangered species after suffering a population decline of 90%.  Maybe you’ll be motivated to do your part by planting native plants and keeping your yard “as messy as you can tolerate” to ensure suitable habitat for bees and other pollinators.

Hopefully, these pages rekindle your own love for wild things and reinvigorate your commitment to do all you can to care for people and land.

Top photo courtesy of Matt Bolick.

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