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Know the West

Decent landowners


Michelle Nijhuis suggests that accelerating Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and “voluntary decency” can help us meet the challenges of the modern West (“Where’s Aldo?” HCN, 1/19/15). I would offer that the first step is to recognize and support implementation of this ethic where it already exists and to understand that doing the “right thing” for the land can require more than just good intentions.

For 16 years, I had the opportunity to manage a ranch for landowners who shared Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. Our management plan was designed to improve ecological health, restore natural processes, and to help develop and spread the knowledge needed to manage working lands profitably and sustainably.

However, in a time when many of our natural systems and landscapes have been dramatically altered, and when we depend on the products and services the land provides, it’s not always clear what “the right thing” is. The science is imperfect and continually evolving. Owning, managing and restoring land can be hugely expensive, and we have public policies and systems that can actually impede good stewardship.

Some people are surprised to learn that many landowners across the West share a strong land ethic and face these same challenges. In fact, the landowner-led collaborative conservation movement is widespread and growing. The most effective thing we can do in support of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is to enable its implementation on the ground. We need policies, economic opportunities, the cooperation of public-land management agencies, and the development of relevant science to better support the voluntary decency that already exists.

Lesli Allison
Santa Fe, New Mexico