A Sand County Almanac

A philosophical term invented by Leopold. He believes that human beings should treat the land ethically. That is, he believes humans should see themselves as part of a community, and include the land itself in that community. Instead of considering only how the land can help them, Leopold hopes humankind will begin to consider what their obligation is to the land.

Land Ethic Quotes in A Sand County Almanac

The A Sand County Almanac quotes below are all either spoken by Land Ethic or refer to Land Ethic. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time and History  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ballantine Books edition of A Sand County Almanac published in 1966.
Part III: The Round River Quotes

Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them—cautiously—but not abolish them.
The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little is known about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A Sand County Almanac quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Part IV: The Land Ethic Quotes

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Home 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.

In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.

In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham’s mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education.

The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the biotic mechanism is so complex that is workings may never be fully understood.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

When the logic of history hungers for bread and we hand out a stone, we are at pains to explain how much the stone resembles bread. I now describe some of the stones which serve in lieu of a land ethic.

One of the basic weaknesses in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbirds are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use. Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to continuance.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The thumbnail sketch of land as an energy circuit conveys three basic ideas:

(1) That land is not merely soil.

(2) That the native plants and animals kept the energy circuit open; others may or may not.

(3) That man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary changes, and have effects more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen.

These ideas, collectively, raise two basic issues: Can the land adjust itself to the new order? Can the desired alterations be accomplished with less violence?

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

…We see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism. Robinson’s injunction to Tristram may well be applied, at this juncture, to Homo sapiens as a species in geological time:
Whether you will or not

You are a King, Tritram, for you are one

Of the time-tested few that leave the world,

When they are gone, not the same place it was.

Mark what you leave.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to the land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.

Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of the land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than towards, an intense consciousness of land.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Part IV: Wilderness Quotes

Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.

Wilderness was never a homogenous raw material. It was very diverse, and the resulting artifacts are very diverse. These differences in the end-product are known as cultures. The rich diversity of the world’s cultures reflects a corresponding diversity in the wilds that gave them birth.
For the first time in the history of the human species, two changes are now impending. One is the exhaustion of wilderness in the more habitable portions of the globe. The other is the world-wide hybridization of cultures through modern transport and industrialization. Neither can be prevented, and perhaps should be, but the question arises weather, by some slight amelioration of the impending changes, certain values can be preserved that would otherwise be lost.

To the laborer in the sweat of his labor, the raw stuff on his anvil is an adversary to be conquered. So was wilderness an adversary to the pioneer.

But to the laborer in repose, able for the moment to cast a philosophical eye on his world, that same raw stuff is something to be loved and cherished, because it gives definition and meaning to his life. This is a plea for the preservation of some tag-ends of wilderness, as museum pieces, for the edification of those who may one day wish to see, feel, or study the origins of their cultural inheritance.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Part IV: Conservation Esthetic Quotes

The trophy-recreationist has peculiarities that contribute in subtle ways to his own undoing. To enjoy he must possess, invade appropriate. Hence the wilderness that he cannot personally see has no value to him. Hence the universal assumption that an unused hinterland is rendering no service to society. To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part. (Is my share in Alaska worthless to me because I shall never go there? Do I need a road to show me the arctic prairie, the goose pastures of the Yukon, the Kodiak bear, the sheep meadows behind McKinley?)

It would appear, in short, that the rudimentary grades of outdoor recreation consume their resource-base; the higher grades, at least to a degree, create their own satisfactions with little or no attrition of land or life. It is the expansion of transport without a corresponding growth of perception that threatens us with qualitative bankruptcy of the recreational process. Recreation development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.

Related Characters: Aldo Leopold (speaker)
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire A Sand County Almanac LitChart as a printable PDF.
A sand county almanac.pdf.medium

Land Ethic Term Timeline in A Sand County Almanac

The timeline below shows where the term Land Ethic appears in A Sand County Almanac. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part IV: The Land Ethic
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold proposes the construction of an ecological ethic . This would distinguish between “social” and “anti-social conduct,” and would encourage a cooperative view... (full context)
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
...people’s relationship to “land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” The land ethic simply assumes the community extends to include the natural world—“soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively:... (full context)
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold admits that a land ethic can’t prevent the use or alteration of the land, but it can help protect it... (full context)
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold categorizes various substitutes for the land ethic he has observed. Economic substitutes are risky because most organisms, or “members of the land... (full context)
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
...of land management, and again circles back to an ideal of a national (or global) land ethic , which would require every citizen to do their part to treat the land as... (full context)
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold believes people who have yet to develop a land ethic can view the land in two distinct ways. He splits people into Group A versus... (full context)
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
Leopold hopes that a land ethic can and will develop in America. Although he has set down some proposed rules, he... (full context)
Part IV: Conservation Esthetic
Types of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Value of the Land Theme Icon
Ethics and Ecology Theme Icon
...in youth and never outgrow it. Leopold alleges that trophy hunters who never develop a land ethic or conscience are happy to “possess, invade, [and] appropriate” the wilderness. Because of this, these... (full context)