In his great book, “A Sand County Almanac,” published in 1949 and still relevant today, Aldo Leopold begins his forward thus: “There are some who can live without wild things, and there are some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

“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. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

“These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they came from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.”

Leopold hit several home runs in this short salvo in his forward. Mechanization in 1949 was taking root and led to things like landfills that polluted our groundwater, nearly wiped out our bald eagles with DDT, a massive rise in childhood cancer that was not an issue in 1949, polluted waters that made eating fish a risk to everyone, especially pregnant women, and many other issues that I will not get into. Yes, there has been amazing growth in many areas and our style of life has improved, but at a great cost, including a national obesity outbreak. Today many people are wondering if our lifestyle is demanding a price that is too high to continue to pay.

In the next few columns, I am going to be looking into in what Aldo Leopold called our “Land Ethic” to see where we are, where we have been and where we are going. I am hearing great things like new standards for disposable items that will lead to increased recycling and less garbage polluting land, water and air. 

I also heard a few weeks ago that our Senate passed S.47, the Natural Resource Management Act, by an amazing 92-8 vote that was followed by the House passing the same bill by a 363-62 tally! Designed to conserve and allow public access to our public lands and waters, this bipartisan program originally passed in 1964 was designed for outdoor recreation and clean water. Since then, over $4 billion has been invested in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. To this day, the LWCF is the most successful conservation program in U.S. history. Everyone who enjoys the great outdoors and accesses it should be applauding these actions.

When Leopold penned “The Sand County Almanac,” the fight for free lands open to the public, and to protect unlimited clean water and air was just beginning. Not much later, lines were being drawn in the sand and the “Land Ethics” fight was just beginning. Now as we watch other countries follow in our mechanized world blueprint, we see it’s destroying rain forests, melting ice caps and threatening several wildlife species here and around the world. Today, more than ever, we have to wonder where we are going and what our individual responsibility in it all is.

Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and works in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at jamesbennett24@gmail.com

Wild River Trails

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