Another Call for a "Land Ethic"
In 1948 Luna Leopold began compiling and editing his father's notes, resulting a year later in "A Sand County Almanac". Long heralded a classic and a cornerstone of the ecology movement, the insights on "land ethics" and ecology found in the book are as true today as when written.
Last week Luna Leopold addressed the Forest Service Intermountain Region Leadership Team's spring meeting. Shortly thereafter he told Intermountain Region employees and their Research Station compatriots that his address to the leadership team was meant to "ruffle a few feathers." And it did, I suspect, if the number of leadership team members who did not applaud the remarks is an indicator. But those who did applaud, did so with vigor.
Luna Leopold is a retired professor from UC Berkeley, and a long-standing observer of the Forest Service. While making it clear that he was "speaking as a friend," he also made it clear that he was not in favor of certain practices that forest managers had allowed themselves to be drawn into. "You are not tree farmers," he said, "but you've allowed yourselves to become tree farmers." "You have lost the idea of being a forest manager." He puzzled over the widespread use of clearcutting and the reluctance to embrace selective logging. One might argue that the Forest Service chooses not to log selectively because it is not profitable, but Leopold pointed out that the Forest Service's timber sales often don't make money-no matter what type of timber management is chosen.
Leopold suggested that there was a general feeling of hostility from the American people when they were asked to pay user-fees for activities on their land. He too shared the sentiment, but pledged his support for user fees-even to champion them-if the revenues from the fees could be used locally for projects that had the support of user-groups.
His examples were used to illustrate what he perceived to be a general failure of agency officials to develop projects and programs in the public interest. But Leopold was quick to point out that there were local bright spots. For example, he singled out the recent shift in emphasis for the timber program on the Bridger-Teton NF, a shift that moved the timber program away from an active war on the Lodgepole Pine Bark Beetle with a coincident harvest of about 33 million board feet/year, toward a program with an expected annual harvest of about 12 million board feet contingent on meeting land management objectives aimed toward a desired future condition for defined watersheds on the forest.
Better projects and more thoughtful programs generally would not be developed, Leopold noted, until the agency could get feedback on those projects and programs. But the data is lacking, and will continue to be until the agency makes it clear that "monitoring" is more than a commitment made chiefly on paper. The Forest Service is simply not collecting data on the impacts of roads and timber harvest activities on stream quality, bank erosion, and stream channel maintenance.
Leopold wondered what use was a Research arm of the Forest Service that acted as if it didn't work for the agency. He wondered why research professionals were involved in research programs that were "not answering questions that resource professionals are asking." The situation is as if the National Forest Systems arm doesn't know what information to ask for, and the Research arm is busy getting it-much like the response Alice got from the Cheshire Cat when she was wondering which road to take but didn't know where she was going.
"The resource professional looks askance at the Forest Service attitude" on some resource management activities, said Leopold, citing as examples oil and gas development in places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming; small-hydro power developments that dewater riparian ecosystems; and roading where the immediate purpose of the road is to extract areas from the base of roadless area lands.
Leopold cut his prescriptive advice from the same cloth that his father had used 40 years earlier. He said that we need to adopt a new and completely different "ethos"-one based on ecology and a love for the land. Each of us would be well advised to dust off our copies of his father's "A Sand County Almanac". For those who do, pay particular attention to the three chapters titled: "The Land Ethic", "Wilderness", and "A Conservation Esthetic."
Leopold concluded his remarks on a somber note. After acknowledging that there were many forces that drove forest managers to do things that violated their sensibility, he punctuated his conclusion: "The Forest Service has taken on the job of overseeing the destruction and disintegration of the forest empire of the American public."
Is there hope in "New Perspectives in Forest Management" and the other movements afoot in the Forest Service? In response to the question, in questions and answers following his remarks, Leopold said that he didn't know enough about the topic to conjecture whether the ideas might help the agency with its current dilemma.
One thing seems clear. If we are to continue to use Gifford Pinchot's famous line, "the greatest good, for the greatest number, in the long run", we should start thinking about three related questions: What "good" is to be made the greatest? Who will be the recipients of that good in the "greatest number?" How long is "the long run?"
In our race to maximize the productive capability of our resources, we seem to have misplaced our love for the land, and lost sight of the fact that we don't really own the land. We borrow the land from our grandchildren, and they in turn will borrow it from their grandchildren.