What individual hunter saved the most public land in history? Theodore Roosevelt (234 million acres). What individual hunter coined the “land ethic” that has inspired the most private land re-wilding? Aldo Leopold. Hunters have been the historical heroes of wild land restoration and protection.
In June I was honored to be the closing keynote speaker at the annual conference of Cabela’s Trophy PROPERTIES in San Diego, California. Among its many features, Conservation Force is both a land trust and a “conservation partner” of Cabela’s. Conservation Force’s land trust division holds conservation easements on private lands and other set asides, such as mitigation banks. The Cabela’s leadership wanted me to demonstrate to the private property brokers gathered from across the country the conservation culture connection of sport hunting to private property ownership and management. The presentation was in three parts: 1.) the role of hunting in conservation in America, 2.) the leadership of hunters in land re-wilding, and 3.) the nuts and bolts of conservation easements that were initially inspired by hunting leaders. Rather than repeat the entire presentation here in all its technical aspects, I’ve selected parts that you may want to know and should be of interest.
Today, wildlife and wild places no longer exist by accident. The North American Model, a user-pay system, has been an important key to the protection and re-wildling of America. American sportsmen have contributed more than all others combined. America should be known as much for the sportsmen’s conservation ethic as for Democracy. They are the heroes of habitat as well as the wildlife upon it.
Theodore Roosevelt was a New York City boy who yearned to retreat to the hardy life in the more natural world. Roosevelt the naturalist wanted to experience special places. He was searching for a more natural, higher-order relationship with the natural world. Two quotes express what he was searching for and obviously found as he traveled to the wild places of the globe:
“…there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 1910
“The strong attraction of the silent places…unworn of man, and changed only by the slow change of the ages through time everlasting.”
Forward to African Game Trails
This hunting leader fathered 234 million acres of national wildlife refuges, national parks and national forest lands. He intuitively knew and valued public wild places. He was not unlike many of those city dwellers today who long for a place in the country that Cabela’s brokers cater to.
Aldo Leopold was equally the historic leader in re-wilding on private lands. Considered the “father of wildlife management,” he authored Game Management, but his work that is credited as founding ecology and concern for habitat is A Sand County Almanac and related writings. He wrote, “[i]t is, by common consent, a good thing for people to get back to nature,” but the greater the exodus from the city, “the smaller the per-capita ration of peace, solitude, wildlife and scenery….” In his chapter entitled The Land Ethic, he expressed land’s cultural and aesthetic value aside from its economic productivity. The land ethic this devout hunter coined is considered the “Golden Rule of Ecology.”
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.”
A Sand County Almanac, The Land Ethic “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”
Forward to Sand County Almanac, 1948
The concept of recreation does not capture all that land can mean as the value of special places is a relationship or connection that is a higher-order experience that is real but difficult to express. We need these “spots” or sacred places for ourselves as well as game. These places in the woods were cathedrals of nature and places of retreat from the artificial world we have created. We need wild places to use and enjoy but not destroy. Meaningful places of culture and conservation value that are wild, untamed, naked, pure, raw and natural – places to rediscover ourselves.
Aldo would go waterfowl hunting early to hear the awakening and smell of the early morning marsh and goose music just as Roosevelt marveled at the roar of lion under the twinkling stars in the cold night air. Aldo said, “I have congenital hunting fever and three sons.” Goose Music (1922). “Poets sing and hunters scale the mountains primarily for one and the same reason – the thrill of beauty.” Goose Music. His daughter explains, “To him (Leopold) hunting was an expression of love for the natural world: you might say it initiated a kind of bonding with the land.” Indeed it did.
There is no doubt that hunters know first-hand the aesthetic and cultural value of land that Roosevelt wanted to experience and Leopold wanted to express and both wanted to save and to restore. Sportsmen and women are re-wilding those sacred places of retreat. Those retreats beckon us, awaken our senses and help us find ourselves. It is part of completion to those fortunate to know it. Please help Conservation Force and Cabela’s re-wild America and protect our way of life.