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Aldo LeopoldLiving Leopold: the land ethic and a new agrarianism

“Bread and beauty grow best together.”—Aldo Leopold

This year, we celebrate the centennial of the arrival of the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold to the Southwest as a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. Over the course of a diverse and influential career, Leopold eloquently advocated a variety of critical conservation concepts, including wilderness protection, sustainable agriculture, wildlife research, ecological restoration, environmental education, land health, erosion control, watershed management, and famously, a land ethic.

Each of these concepts resonates today—perhaps more so than ever as the challenges of the twenty-first century grow more complicated and more pressing. But it was Aldo Leopold’s emphasis on conserving whole systems—soil, water, plants, animals, and people together—that is most crucial today. The health of the entire system, he argued, is dependent on its indivisibility; and the knitting force was a land ethic—the moral obligation we feel to protect soil, water, plants, animals, and people together as one community.

After Leopold’s death in 1948, however, the idea of a whole system was broken into fragments by a rising tide of industrialization and materialism. Even environmentalism played a role in the breakup of the world Leopold encountered a century ago by cleaving nature from work and segregating the ecological from the economic.

Fortunately, today a scattered but concerted effort is underway to knit the whole back together, beginning where it matters most—on the ground. Leopold’s call for a land ethic is the root of what is being called a new agrarianism—a diverse suite of ideas, practices, goals, and hopes all based on the persistent truth that genuine health and wealth depends on the land’s fertility.

In Latin, agrarius means ‘pertaining to land’ and this resurgent movement includes a dynamic intermixing of ranchers, farmers, conservationists, scientists, and others who aim to create a regenerative economy that works in harmony with nature. It starts with land health and local food production, the foundations of ecological and human wellbeing, and extends to watershed rehabilitation, riparian restoration, progressive cattle management, biodiversity conservation, open space protection, good land stewardship, and much more.

Aldo Leopold is the spiritual mentor to this hopeful effort.

Agrarianism is on the rise for three main reasons: first, it requires that we feel “the soil between our toes,” as Leopold put it, meaning it requires an intimate understanding of how land actually works. In turn, this encourages what Leopold saw as the role of individual responsibility for the health of the land. “Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal,” he wrote, and “conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.” In other words, the new agrarianism is ecological—it blends scientific understanding of land health with local knowledge into a manageable whole. One goal of this blending is to build resilience, which is the ability to handle shock and change. And as the earth warms under climate change, building resilience is becoming crucially important.

Second, it’s economic. Unlike environmentalism, which never developed an economic program to go along with its preservation and human health programs, agrarianism is a practical retort to industrialism. It confronts our economy, the source of most environmental ills, and thereby gives the average American an alternative to participating in an unsustainable model of economic growth. By implementing sustainable profit and work at local scales, this effort points us in a hopeful direction. It’s not theoretical either—it exists and it works, as evidenced by the many examples of good stewardship across the nation.

Third, the new agrarianism walks the talk of a land ethic. It encompasses soil plants, animals, and people, striving for a harmonious balance between all. “There is only one soil, one flora, one fauna, and one people, and hence only one conservation problem,” Leopold wrote in the Sand County Almanac. “Economic and esthetic land uses can and must be integrated, usually on the same acre.” A land ethic means coexistence—between urban and rural, domestic and wild, people and nature, bread and beauty.

Additionally, and perhaps just as importantly, a new agrarianism sparks joy. It requires care and affection and love and laughter to succeed, including affection for one another.

There is one more reason why this movement is on the rise: we are all agrarians now. Our health and wealth depends on what we choose to eat, how we produce our energy, where our water comes from, who benefits from sustainable practices—and each has its root in the land. As we edge deeper into the challenges of the twenty-first century, the issues of resilience, coexistence, food, and hope couldn’t be more important.

The Quivira Coalition’s 8th Annual Conference “Living Leopold” takes place November 4th through 6th, 2009, in Albuquerque. For more information, visit quiviracoalition.org


The Quivira Coalition’s 8th annual conference celebrates Aldo Leopold

The Quivira Coalition's 8th annual conference will take place November 4 through 6, 2009 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Albuquerque, and will celebrate the visionary work of Aldo Leopold.

The vision that Aldo Leopold set into motion for conservation during his career with the U.S. Forest Service lives on one hundred years after his arrival in the Southwest. Leopold’s strategies included wilderness protection, sustainable agriculture, wildlife research, ecological restoration, environmental education, erosion control, land health, biological holism, watershed management and a land ethic.

The Quivira Coalition 2009 conference "Living Leopold: The Land Ethic and a New Agrarianism" features illustrious speakers who are also practitioners—conservationists who are implementing Leopold’s vision in the field, where the land ethic is alive and well.

Two pre-conference symposia will take place Wednesday, November 4: Water Symposium: “Let the water do the work: Healing incised channels with induced meandering,” and Range School: “Dung beetles, bats, beaver, wolves, and elk—oh my: Creating harmony between livestock and wildlife."

Wednesday evening, authors Gary Nabhan, Bill DeBuys, and Linda Hasselstrom, as well as ranchers, scientists, land managers, and others will read their favorite passages from the writings of Aldo Leopold.

Thursday, November 5th will feature presentations on land health, conservation and sustainable agriculture with diverse perspectives in science, ecology, ranching, and energy development.

Friday, November 6th will cover topics on restoration, beauty, and the land ethic, with presenters specializing in ranching, forest health, wildlife, and riparian restoration. The Clarence Burch Award of $20,000 for innovative ranch management and building bridges between ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, public lands managers, and others will be presented Friday evening in a special ceremony and banquet.

“Bread and beauty grow best together. Their harmonious integration can make farming not only a business but an art; the land not only a food-factory but an instrument for self-expression, on which each can play music of his own choosing.”—Aldo Leopold, The Conservation Ethic, 1933.

To register, please visit us online at quiviracoalition.org.

Since 1997, over one million acres, at least twenty linear miles of riparian drainages, and ten thousand people have benefited from the Quivira Coalition's collaborative efforts through land health and riparian restoration demonstration projects.


Flash in the Pan

Flash in the Pan

A checklist of autumn activities to lay the groundwork for next year’s garden

—Ari LeVaux, Placitas

Fall Chores

Nobody likes waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but the problem with that expression is it draws attention to the morning, when you notice something’s wrong, instead of to the night before, when the damage was done. All the coffee in the world won’t undo a pre-bed argument or late night. If you want to wake up on the right side of the bed, you have to go to sleep there. And the same can be said about your garden.

Winter is like a long, cold night for your garden, and the morning, aka spring, will be largely shaped by what you do the preceding fall—hence the expression “putting the garden to bed.” If tucked in properly, your garden will be healthier, with fewer weeds, and require much less work come spring. In other words, next year’s gardening season starts right now. So here’s a checklist of fall chores to help make good beds for your garden to sleep in.

Clear the dregs of this year’s garden. Leaving dead plants in your garden creates habitat for pests and their eggs. Root maggots, for example, can overwinter in the roots of plants in the mustard family, like broccoli or kale, and infect next year’s crop. Pull your plants, roots and all, and put them in the compost or the chicken yard. You should have gotten rid of diseased plants already, but if any remain in your garden, don’t put them in the compost—burn them, or put them in the trash.

Weeds should also be removed. If a weed is of the spreading variety, removing the roots now will prevent it from getting the jump next year. If the weed contains seed heads, be careful not to scatter the seeds. And since many weed seeds can survive the compost pile unscathed, burn the seed heads or put them in the trash, rather than the compost.

The seed heads of your crop plants, on the other hand, can be a different story, depending on your gardening style. I like to break up the seed heads of the “good” plants and scatter the seeds over the garden. I do this every fall with cilantro, lettuce, spinach and parsley, and over the years these plants have migrated around the garden, sprouting up among tomatoes, garlic, or whatever gets planted in their place the following year. I allow these edible shoots to grow wherever they sprout, and watch how they do. Not only do I get the supplemental greens, I learn how they perform in the presence of other plants, and in different corners of the garden. This strategy has helped me find the best spots in my garden for spinach (by the grapes) and parsley (in the strawberries). Lettuce seems to grow well everywhere, and I still haven’t found the sweet spot for cilantro.

On this note, and in keeping with the notion that next year’s garden season starts this autumn, some crops can be planted now. Garlic is typically planted in fall, and doing so should be high on your list of fall chores. Fall is also a good time to seed spinach, parsley, and onions. If they have time to sprout, the plants will survive most winters. And if the seeds lie dormant until the spring thaw, they’ll be in perfect position to sprout as early as possible.

Some root crops, like carrots, can remain in the ground into the winter. In fact, carrots get sweeter after a frost. But it won’t matter how good they are if the ground is frozen and you can’t dig them out, so cover your carrots with a thick layer of straw mulch (not hay, which has seeds). The mulch will keep the ground soft for several weeks longer, giving you an extra month or two of easy storage before you have to dig them.

If you’re into flowers, consider planting bulbs, like tulips, crocuses, or daffodils in the fall. They’ll come up in spring and look pretty.

The most important aspect of putting your garden to bed is getting your soil ready for next year’s planting. Many farmers till the ground in fall, rather than pulling up the weeds and leftover crops. This disrupts the pest habitat and recycles nutrients from the plants directly into the soil. The downside is that tilling also disrupts soil structure and the activity of good soil microorganisms.

Whether or not you do a fall tilling, you should definitely spread compost or manure on your beds. It not only adds nutrients to the soil, but also acts as a mulch, preventing weed growth, and when you dig in that dirt come spring, you’ll notice it turns over like butter.

Most farmers, and many gardeners, plant a cover crop in fall, like winter rye or buckwheat. Cover crops act as a living mulch, crowding out weeds that might otherwise take hold in the empty fields, and contributing organic matter to the soil when they’re tilled under in the spring. While there’s no doubt that cover crops improve the long-term health of the soil, sowing them can be overly ambitious for some home gardeners, because of the work involved in mowing them and tilling them under.

One way to achieve a similar result is to cover your garden with a layer of dead leaves, which will decompose over the winter, adding organic matter while preventing weeds from taking root. If you really want to be slick, first spread some compost, then a thin layer of leaves, and then a layer of straw to keep the leaves from blowing away. In spring, the leaves will be gone, with assistance from the compost, and you can rake up the straw to reveal a fertile bed, free of weeds and ripe for the planting.

That’s the kind of bed you want to wake up to on the other side of winter. So tuck your garden in right.


Las Placitas Crew

The Las Placitas crew does the heavy lifting on the Placitas Open Space.

Las Placitas Association November trails workshop

—Reid Bandeen, Las Placitas Association

The Las Placitas Association (LPA) will be hosting an outdoor workshop on hiking trail maintenance and construction on Saturday, November 14. We’ll focus on trail maintenance, construction, and erosion control on the west side of the Placitas Open Space. Our favorite trail specialists from the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division will join us and provide all necessary tools.

This work is part of LPA’s continuing efforts to assist the City of Albuquerque in implementing the Management Plan for the Placitas Open Space. Las Placitas will provide drinks and snacks for this morning workshop. Please wear sturdy clothes and bring work gloves, a sun hat, extra water, and rain gear. We’ll meet at the Placitas Homesteads Mercantile (The Merc) parking lot at 8:30 a.m., carpool to the site, and work until about noon. The Open Space is beautiful this time of year, and your participation helps to assure the viability of the Placitas Open Space!

For more information on the workshop and LPA, visit lasplacitas.org or call Reid Bandeen at 867-5477. We look forward to seeing you November 14th.


Bedbugs

Certain cities across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe, and Africa have seen an explosion in bed bugs in recent years. Increased worldwide travel and the rising popularity of second-hand goods may be factors. Some suggest that bringing back DDT and other harsh insecticides, long banned, is going to be the only way to halt an epidemic.

EarthTalk®

—From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Why are bed bugs a big issue right now? Where do they come from and what real harm do they do? Are there non-toxic ways of dealing with them?
—Harper H., Newburyport, MA

Bed bugs, tiny little rust-colored insects of the Cimicidae family, live by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts. They get their name from their favorite habitat: mattresses (they like sofas and other cushy furniture, too). Bed bugs are most active at night, just when you’re asleep in your bed and easy prey. While their bites can be itchy, bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health threat at this point.

For reasons still unknown to public health experts, certain cities across the U.S., Canada, Australia, Europe, and Africa have seen an explosion in bed bugs in recent years. According to Larry Pinto, author of The Techletter, a leading information source for the pest control industry, increased worldwide travel and the rising popularity of second-hand goods may be factors in the resurgence of bed bugs, but the most likely reason is our rejection of DDT and other harsh insecticides composed of chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Pinto suggests that the kinder, gentler pesticides available now, as well as more conservative pest control methods (such as using bait traps for specific infestations instead of all-around, periodic preventative spraying) are less effective at keeping bed bugs—and likely other pests—away. “Modern insecticides are proving to be somewhat ineffective against bed bugs,” he reports, adding that insects can also develop some level of resistance to insecticides in general.

Due to the bed bug problem in many cities, charities like Goodwill often won’t accept old mattresses or couches any longer. Consumers should beware of purchasing reconditioned or used mattresses and furniture accordingly. Even new mattresses can arrive at your home already infested, especially if they travel in trucks that contain old mattresses that new customers are discarding. If you can drive your new mattress home from the store yourself, you are more likely to avoid a bed bug infestation altogether.

The upside of our abandonment of pesticides like DDT, of course, is the resurgence of bald eagles and other wildlife negatively affected by the accumulation of such toxins in the environment during the latter half of the twentieth century. DDT was causing the shells of bird eggs to be thin and weak, resulting in many fewer hatchlings. By the mid-1960s, the U.S. played host to only four hundred breeding pairs of bald eagles—less than one percent of the bird’s estimated population in the region prior to white settlement. DDT was finally banned in 1972, and today nearly ten thousand breeding pairs of bald eagles thrive in the continental U.S.

Some home-use treatments made with natural non-toxic ingredients are now available. XeroBugs’ Best Yet, a top choice of hotel/motel managers, makes use of cedar oil and natural enzymes to kill bed bugs. Another leading product is Rest Easy Bed Bug Spray, which uses cinnamon and other natural ingredients. Although these products are deemed effective, some argue that they don’t work nearly well enough to eradicate what some are calling a bed bug epidemic. Some are even calling for bringing back DDT (for use in small doses and for specific applications only) to help eradicate the growing bed bug problem.


Placitas Recycling Center

Placitas Recycling Center announces winter hours, seeks new board members

The Placitas Recycling Center will retain its current hours of operation on Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) experimented with different winter hours last year, but found there was too much confusion in the community when the hours changed. Therefore, the PRA decided not to change the center’s operating hours this winter.

As usual, the center will be closed the Saturday after Thanksgiving, on November 28th. This year, however, it will also be closed the Saturday after rather than before Christmas. The center will operate normal Saturday hours on December 19 and close December 26. It will open again on January 2, 2010, weather permitting.

As visitors to the recycling center in October have learned, the PRA has launched a major push to recruit new board members. Five board members have resigned over the past year for health reasons or because they moved out of the area. If new board members cannot be found to replace those losses, it may be difficult for the all-volunteer PRA to continue operating the recycling center.

PRA board members meet quarterly to decide on the organization’s business matters. In addition, each board member is expected to supervise operations at the recycling center approximately four Saturdays per year. PRA officers are selected by the board annually, or as needed, and include the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Volunteer Schedule Coordinator. Some board members perform other duties on a rotating basis, including baling plastic and transporting the recycled materials to Albuquerque.

“This is an opportunity for people in our community to make a real difference in the quality of our environment,” commented John Richardson, PRA President. “This is a very successful program; people in Placitas really use the recycling center. We keep hundreds of tons of refuse out of the landfill every year. The volunteers who work on Saturdays are dedicated and a delight to work with. We want to be able to continue providing this service, but to do so we need more people to be willing to be on the board.” Anyone interested in joining can contact the supervising board member at the recycling center any Saturday morning or call Robin Brandin at 867-3384.

The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 one-half mile east of I-25. It is open Saturday mornings between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., except on posted holidays. Volunteers are always needed and are invited to sign up at the center during operating hours. More information about the center and the materials it accepts can be found at placitasrecycling.com.


Elk

Got your elk yet?

— Drew Pogge, Writers on the Range

Got your elk yet? It’s a far more complex question than it appears. In one breath, it asks, “Are we friends?” “Do you approve of firearms?” “Do we share an ideology?” and, naturally, “Do you want to hear about me getting my elk?” Even more significantly, the question assumes that if you live in the West, you must hunt. Right?

Nope.

I don’t hunt though I have hunted — birds and varmints and deer, mostly — but I never really caught the itch. Why not? Simple. I have plenty of food, and I’d rather do a lot of other things like biking, hiking or skiing during hunting season. I don’t have anything against hunters, and I strongly encourage my hunting friends to share their success with me; it’s tough to beat a grilled elk tenderloin.

But back to the question. I can’t figure out why I keep being asked about “my” elk. The question’s not offensive, but it bothers me. It assumes that I do hunt; moreover, it suggests that I should hunt, if in fact I don’t already. Now, why should those things be assumed and suggested, and why are people asking me this question in the first place? What’s the big deal with hunting?

For one thing, I’ve never figured out what makes it a sport. Whenever I’ve gone, it’s been a matter of stumbling across an animal, pulling the trigger and causing the animal to cease to exist. End of story. There’s no Hemingwayesque battle between man and nature because the advantage seems to be all on our side. There’s no beauty of the kill and no real “sport,” just a dead animal. It’s kind of exciting, sure, but we humans have a fantastically large brain, opposable thumbs and weapons that can hurl a piece of highly engineered, searing-hot lead several hundred yards accurately and consistently. What’s so sporting about going head to head with an animal so dumb that it will leap in front of your truck?

I realize not everyone hunts with a rifle. I have the utmost respect for bow hunters, though with compound bows and razor-sharp broadhead tips, arrows suddenly start to resemble funny-shaped bullets when it comes to killing efficiency. Shouldn’t we be hunting with spears, or slingshots or something more primitive, if the goal is to keep it sporting? I met a man once who hunts 300-pound tusked boars in Arkansas with a two-foot-long dagger. He jumps on their backs from trees, Rambo-style. Now, that’s hunting.

At one time, in order to eat meat, we had to hunt and kill an animal. It was an honorable task that put food on the table. But the minute people began paying mortgage-like sums of money to fly to another state, hire a guide and finally execute an elk, goat, sheep or other Western big game “trophy,” the legitimacy of subsistence hunting went out the window -- particularly if what’s hunted is a farmed elk that’s within a fenced enclosure.

Few of us these days have to hunt for food, and I find it irksome when people claim to hunt for subsistence. It’s far more expensive to buy weapons, go hunting and process the meat into frozen and wrapped cuts than it is to buy a T-bone at the grocer. So hunting an animal isn’t about providing one’s family with food, at least not entirely.

That leaves cultural tradition. Hunting and fishing (and of course, the Second Amendment!) are almost as ingrained in the Western psyche as the fear of wolves and distaste for government. And that’s part of what makes the West so great: We like to be outside, and to be left the hell alone; sidearm optional.

I don’t have a problem with that, and now that I’ve thought it through a bit, I don’t think I really have much of a problem with being asked about getting my elk. At its heart, the question comes down to the same cultural tradition that makes the mountain West what it is, at least in the places that haven’t been “Front Ranged” yet.

It’s the same tradition that supports our publicly owned land and water rights and increasingly taut environmental management to protect those rights. It’s the same tradition that wants government to keep its distance and supports personal freedom as well as personal responsibility. The Western cultural tradition -- hunting included -- is pretty special. I’d rather be a part of that tradition, even as a ski-bumming sideliner, than not at all. Especially since this particular tradition comes with tasty meat dishes and friends who like to share.

“Got your elk yet?”

Drew Pogge is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the editor of Backcountry Magazine and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the dreaded Front Range.

 

     

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