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The Land Ethic Ideal

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.


The Land Ethic Ideal

By Grace Wheelan Tweedt
Grade 10, Verona Area High School

How can one comprehend how to work and coexist with land? This principle directly relates to Aldo Leopold’s beliefs; he preached upon the notion that humans would openly adopt conservation laws if it meant they would directly benefit from it. In order to fully solve a problem, one must understand the science behind why something doesn’t work, not simply identify the issue. Despite Aldo Leopold’s beliefs regarding the knowledge of many farmers and citizens, there are many leaders in Wisconsin today that have adopted and carried on his perceptions.

Ruth Oppedahl stands next to her kayak. Photo courtesy of Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

One local leader that emulates the environmental beliefs and concerns that Aldo Leopold expressed in his Land Ethic approach, is Ruth Oppedahl. She holds the position of executive director of the Natural Resource Foundation in Wisconsin. Ruth Oppedahl oversees the administration and ensures that the foundation’s vision of preserving resources for Wisconsin’s lands, wildlife and waters is carried out. In 2015, Ruth traveled along the north and west side of Wisconsin during her vacation and met with conservation groups regarding the protection of the land, water, and wildlife. She completed this trip despite Wisconsin’s budget cut on natural resources. Aldo Leopold expressed, “No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, and convictions.” Ruth Oppedahl directly correlates with Leopold’s beliefs because of simply feeling upset regarding the budget cuts, she took action. Not only did she travel around the state, but she connected with other environmentalists and regular citizens in order to share and gather perspectives regarding natural resources. Along with gathering and conversing with other people, Ruth organized an 18-day paddle from the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi River in order to celebrate the raw beauty of nature. Instead of striving to invent or drastically change the environment in order to meet any economic demands, Ruth desires to share the elegance of nature.

Along with her executive director role, Ruth Oppedahl continues to educate citizens about conservation issues in the Lake Superior Basin. Not only did Ruth explain why the lake beds of clay and sand make it a concern for water quality, but she described the science behind why a certain location has the status it does. Based on her role in the Natural Resource Foundation, Ruth Oppedahl has shown a strong understanding for the biotic pyramid. Ruth focuses on not only preserving nutrients in soil, but how to maintain the resources for plants, insects, birds/rodents, and larger carnivores. Ruth’s environmental goals show that she is determined to actively shift the perception regarding conservation laws.

Thoreau believed in the notion that “wildness is the preservation of the world” and that this practice is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for our natural resources and nature. Similarly, Aldo Leopold preached that conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. Not only is Ruth Oppedahl adhering to the beliefs presented by Leopold, but she reflects the principles of other environmentalists throughout many eras.

Author bio picGrace Whelan Tweedt, a sophomore at Verona Area High School, has always had a love for nature. During the summer, Grace and her family visit their cabin in Canada where they soak in all of the joys of the outdoors with good company. Besides Grace’s passion for writing and nature, Grace loves playing the violin, running track, and teaching music to people of all ages. 

Feature photo, top, Wisconsin River, courtesy of Joshua Mayer / CC0 BY-SA 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!