Aldo Leopold Quotes from Green Fire


Below are the Aldo Leopold quotations used in Green Fire in the order they appear in the film. Many more were left on the cutting room floor, so please check out the references below for more quotes on many subjects.


“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Foreword, A Sand County Almanac.

“I do not imply that this philosophy of land was always clear to me. It is rather the end result of a life journey.” Draft foreword, A Sand County Almanac, in Companion to a Sand County Almanac.

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

“Man always kills the thing he loves. And so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” The Green Lagoons, A Sand County Almanac.

“Perhaps no one but a hunter can understand how intense an affection a boy can feel for a piece of marsh…. I came home one Christmas to find that land promoters, with the help of the Corps of Engineers had dyked and drained my boyhood hunting grounds on the Mississippi river bottoms…. My hometown thought the community enriched by this change. I thought it impoverished.” Draft foreword, A Sand County Almanac, in Companion to a Sand County Almanac.

“For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.” On a Monument to the Pigeon, A Sand County Almanac.

“Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf…. My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on the high rim rock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us, and shook out her tail, we realized our error. It was a wolf.” Thinking Like a Mountain, A Sand County Almanac.

“Our job is to sharpen our tools and make them cut the right way… [T]he sole measure of our success is the effect which they have on the forest.” To the Forest Officers of the Carson, The River of the Mother of God.

“There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.” Wherefore Wildlife Ecology? (unpublished manuscripts), in Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work.

“My dear Estella. This night is so wonderful that it almost hurts…. I would like to be out in our canyon … and see the wild Clematis in the moonlight—wouldn’t you?” Letter to Estella Bergere, 8 July 1911, Leopold Archives.

“I personally believed, at least in 1914 when predator control began, that there could not be too much horned game, and that the extirpation of predators was a reasonable price to pay for better big game hunting.” Review of The Wolves of North America, Species and Subjects: History of American Game Management, Leopold Archives.

“In those days we had never heard of passing up the chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy. When our rifles were empty the old wolf was down and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide rocks.” Thinking Like a Mountain, A Sand County Almanac.

“Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order…. I contrived to get the Gila headwaters withdrawn as a wilderness area, to be kept as pack country, free from additional roads, ‘forever.'” Draft foreword, Companion to A Sand County Almanac.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” Good Oak, A Sand County Almanac.

“The destruction of soil is the most fundamental kind of economic loss which the human race can suffer.” Erosion and ProsperityThe Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries.

“Coon Valley… is one of the thousand farm communities which, through the abuse of its originally rich soil, has not only filled the national dinner pail, but has created the Mississippi flood problem… and the problem of its own future continuity.” Coon Valley: An Adventure in Cooperative Conservation, The River of the Mother of God.

“Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Conservation Economics, The River of the Mother of God.

“The time has come for science to busy itself with the earth itself. The first step is to reconstruct a sample of what we had to start with. That in a nutshell is the Arboretum.” The Arboretum and the University, The River of the Mother of God.

“If the land mechanism as a whole is good then every part is good, whether we understand it or not…To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Conservation, Round River.

“On this sand farm in Wisconsin, first worn out and then abandoned by our bigger and better society, we try to rebuild, with shovel and axe, what we are losing elsewhere. It is here that we seek — and still find — our meat from God.” Foreword, A Sand County Almanac.

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.” Foreword, A Sand County Almanac.

“When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.” Marshland Elegy, A Sand County Almanac.

“We Americans, in most states at least, have not yet experienced a bear-less, eagle-less, cat- less, wolf-less woods. Germany strove for maximum yields of both timber and game and got neither.” Notes on Wild Life Conservation in Germany. Writings: Reprints (bound): Publications of Aldo Leopold: game, Leopold Archives.

“It was here that I first clearly realized that land is an organism, that all my life I had seen only sick land, whereas here was a biota still in perfect aboriginal health. The term ‘unspoiled wilderness’ took on a new meaning.” Draft foreword to A Sand County Almanac, in Companion to a Sand County Almanac.

“Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.” Conservation: In Whole or in Part? The River of the Mother of God.

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” Conservation Esthetic, A Sand County Almanac.

“What more delightful avocation than to take a piece of land and by cautious experimentation to prove how it works. What more substantial service to conservation than to practice it on one’s own land?” Writings: Unpublished Manuscripts, Aldo Leopold’s Desk File: Wildlife and game management, technical [files], 1928-1948, Leopold Archives.

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.” Pines Above the Snow, A Sand County Almanac.

“Our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides, but they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history, to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” Engineering and Conservation, The River of the Mother of God.

“Conservation, without a keen realization of its vital conflicts, fails to rate as authentic human drama. It falls to the level of a mere utopian dream.” Review of Our Natural Resources and Their Conservation. Writings: Reprints (bound): Publication of Aldo Leopold: forestry, wilderness areas and miscellaneous, Leopold Archives.

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” Thinking Like a Mountain, A Sand County Almanac.

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. 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.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.” Marshland Elegy, A Sand County Almanac.

“I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written’… It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.


Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949).

Baird Callicott, ed., Companion to a Sand County Almanac: Interpretive and Critical Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).

Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988/2010).

Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott, eds., The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).

Curt Meine and Richard L. Knight, eds., The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999).

The Leopold Archives:

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