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'The Land Ethic' and Our Relationship with Carnivores


In my last blog post, I shared with you the importance of knowing the carnivores with whom you share your farm.  But there is another knowing that is important as well ~ knowing your place in the land community. So how do you see yourself in relationship to the land on which you farm? How you see yourself in that relationship determines how you farm and how you relate with all other life that shares your farmland with you.

Aldo Leopold, a forester, a farmer, a hunter, a philosopher, and father of wildlife conservation wrote of "The Land Ethic" in his renowned book The Sand County Almanac. Central to the land ethic is the community concept. These are his very words: “In short, a land ethic changes the role of homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

When Leopold speaks of the community, he does not reserve that word for the human community alone, but for the larger community of life that goes beyond our species. When he speaks of his fellow-members, he does not point out only certain ones, but refers to all of them.

This way of knowing one’s place within the community of life is a far cry from the manner in which European settlers saw themselves in relationship to the new American continent. And as I discussed in my first blog detailing a historical perspective, their behaviors followed that perception of how they viewed themselves. Our generation is at a crossroads between these two perspectives of ourselves and our relationship to the land.

A major red flag will point out to the farmer where in this continuum he or she stands. The red flag ~ How do you look upon carnivores?  Again, Leopold’s words defining the Land Ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; it is wrong where it does otherwise.”

That thing that Leopold refers to can be species, and those species can be carnivores. We know now through a great deal of research over the past fifty years that carnivores play a major role in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. They play that role by shepherding the lives of herbivores. Sheperding, a term used by scientists to describe how carnivores balance herbivore populations and thus keep them healthy and robust, and by doing so protect the “green life” of our planet from being devoured by them.

So as result, not having carnivores present on your farm would greatly affect the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. And one last thought regarding the word beauty that Leopold uses. He is not referring to physical attractiveness, but how the phenomenal life of the whole community works as a whole!

Leopold’s Land Ethic succinctly describes then the foundation for the future of farming on our continent: understanding our place in the land community and respecting the importance of all other members of this biotic community.

But nothing has been handed down to our generation from those who have come before us when it comes to our relationship to carnivores within the land ethic. It is a huge learning curve for us, as I mentioned in my first blog. So in my future blogs I will write more particularly about carnivores you experience on your farm, what affects your relationship with them, how you can change that relationship for the better, and the use of animal husbandry practices that work!

Until then, I encourage you to read The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine. Read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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