For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays And Other Writings

For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays And Other Writings

by Aldo Leopold

ISBN: 9781559637640

Publisher Island Press

Published in Calendars/Readers & Writers, Calendars/Diet & Health, Calendars/Nature

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Sample Chapter


Game Management: A New Field for Science

In this brief essay, written for Scientific American in 1932 but never published, Leopold introduces many of the ideas that would thereafter appear conspicuously in his work, particularly the idea that game was best promoted by providing good habitat and letting nature do the rest. It was an idea familiar in other countries and cultures but not yet known in the United States and nowhere practiced with the ecological rigor that Leopold would bring to bear. In this essay, Leopold was already criticizing "modern" methods of "slick and clean" agriculture, which stripped farm fields of wildlife cover and food, and calling for wide-ranging, practical experiments to determine which land treatments did and did not promote game. When he wrote this essay, Leopold apparently thought that "slight modifications" in farming practices would suffice to yield abundant farm game and that producing game could be "an economic move for the farmer." He later realized that the needed changes were far greater and the economics less appealing.

THE FLOOD of science which has inundated the affairs of everyday life has, like any other swift current, exhibited certain backwashes or eddies. For a long time one of these "slow spots" was agriculture—the art of producing crops of domesticated plants and animals. There is still another "slow spot" which has just begun to feel the impetuous onset of the scientific method. This is game management—the art of producing crops of wild animals for recreational use.

The "best" game crop is of course that which has produced itself, without human aid or interference. It is increasingly evident, however, that in settled countries the entire lack of human aid means the ultimate obliteration of wild game, and also the obliteration of the various field sports and recreations involved in its pursuit.

Some kinds of game can, of course, be confined and artificially propagated, but the costs per head are high, while the product, even after release to the fields and woods, lacks "that something" which the American sportsman demands in his quarry. Hence artificial propagation, while an invaluable source of "seed stock," is not by itself a sufficient answer to the question of game shortage.

Wild animals, under ideally favorable conditions, increase with incredible rapidity. Is there not some way in which a part of the tremendous "breeding potential" can be realized—some way in which, by increasing the wild survival, an abundant annual crop of wild game can be restored?

To search for an answer to this question, some of the industries affected by the decline in the game supply have financed a "Game Survey." A modern Solomon might say "of the making of surveys there is no end," but label it what you will, this Survey is an attempt to appraise the chances for game restoration in America. It has so far examined a block of eight states in the upper Mississippi Valley. A report of its findings has been recently published.

The fundamental reason for game scarcity in this region, the report says, is a new entity without a name. A name for it has been borrowed from the physicist and the electrical engineer. It is "environmental resistance." The meaning is this: "Slick and clean" agriculture has removed the game food and cover, and thus increased the resistance which the environment offers to natural increase. Hence a lesser fraction of the breeding potential is realized, hence game is decreasing.

A sample of the evidence on which the findings of the Game Survey are based is the analysis of quail "density" (population per unit area) in various states. A quail census was made of nearly 400 sample ranges, each about the size of an ordinary farm, and the density of each computed by dividing the quail population by the area. A map of these densities shows low abundance to prevail in the prairie farming regions, whether shot or unshot, and especially where farming custom has decreed the removal of hedge fences and fencerows which serve as quail cover. The map shows high densities to prevail in the semifarmed Ozark foothills, and along the riverbreaks of the prairie states, where brushy woodlots, draws, and fencerows are still found, but where grain is also available for winter food. Low densities, on the other hand, prevail in the high Ozarks, where there is endless cover but little grain.

The conclusion indicated is that environmental resistance to quail increase is least where agriculture methods happen to provide food and cover in close juxtaposition, but that the resistance rises where either factor gets "out of balance" with the other.

The same "law" is apparent from an historical study of food and cover changes on a single farm through a long period of time. The Report cites the Phil M. Smith farm in Missouri (see diagram) which, in 1923, supported over 200 quail. At that time it was a "backward" farm, with plenty of brushy draws, hedges, and an ungrazed woodlot. For the next five years its owner, who had just graduated from an agricultural college, subjected it to the process of "modernization." As the livestock, brush-grubbing, and fence-clearing on this farm increased, the quail decreased. In 1929 less than half the original quail population remained. The Report says:

There has undoubtedly been a large increase in the sale value of the farm, due to the enhanced working capital of livestock, fertility, and pasture area.

The question is, however, whether this enhanced value of the farm as a productive agricultural unit could not have been attained without so heavy a sacrifice of its game-producing capacity.

There can be no absolute yes or no answer to this question. The answer is a matter of degree.

The question is statewide, because thousands of farmers are doing, or will eventually do, the same thing. A powerful and extremely effective machinery is maintained in each county at governmental expense to hasten the process, and to show the farmer how. Could not this same machinery show him how to conserve at least a part of his game- producing capacity, if he cares to do so for either pleasure or profit?

To illustrate concretely what is meant by "conserving game-producing capacity" on an improved farm, the map depicts an imaginary reconstruction of the quail coverts on the Smith farm, and the hypothetical response in quail population. The intent is to show how "concentrated" coverts can be squeezed into odd corners without sacrifice of valuable acreage. Whether agricultural experts would approve this particular reconstruction is not known. Probably not. The major plea is that they start experiments on this question, and tell the farmers what particular measures for the benefit of game would meet with their approval, and what response in game might be expected.

The technical process of adapting agriculture and game production to each other—this art of raising game as a wild by-product of the land—the Report calls "Game Management." It offers an almost virgin field for the practical application of biological science. Its techniques are just beginning to be developed. To hasten their development, and start the training of a professional class competent to apply them, the ammunition industry has set up a series of research fellowships at several universities or agricultural colleges. One in Minnesota is studying the management of ruffed grouse, at Wisconsin the management of bobwhite quail, at Michigan of Hungarian partridge, at Arizona of Gambel's quail. Under the eye of the agricultural authorities, and with the advisory guidance of the U.S. Biological Survey, these "Game Fellows" are amassing a body of skill on how to raise wild game on modern farms and in modern forests. The keynote of the whole venture is to find out what slight modifications in methods of managing the primary crop will decrease the environmental resistance to the increase of game.

That agricultural crops are overproduced is now universally admitted. It would seem to follow that the dedication of the poorer parts of thousands of farms to valuable game crops would be an economic move for the farmer, and a substantial answer to the unsolved question of game conservation. Game is the only land crop in which there is no present or prospective overproduction. An unlimited market for hunting privileges exists in the form of five million hunters, annually licensed by our various states to hunt a game crop which in many regions is gradually passing out of existence.


Helping Ourselves: Being the Adventures of a Farmer and a Sportsman Who Produced Their Own Shooting Ground

In this charming piece published in 1934 in Field and Stream, Leopold recounts how he and a local farmer, Reuben Paulson, organized the Riley Game Cooperative. Riley was just the kind of practical experiment in private-lands management that Leopold advocated in the previous essay. We see here Leopold's faith in citizen action, his attention to economic realities, and his infectious "incurable interest in all wild things." Although Paulson is named as "the junior author," the essay is written in Leopold's style from beginning to end.

THE SENIOR author of this narrative is a sportsman who had grown tired of asking suspicious farmers for permission to hunt, hike, or train dogs on gameless farms. The junior author is a farmer who had grown tired of spending his Sundays ejecting miscellaneous unpermitted "rabbit-hunters" from his quail coverts.

Like other outdoorsmen, both of us had listened patiently to the fair words of the prophets of conservation, predicting the early restoration of outdoor Wisconsin. We both had noticed, though, that as prophecies became thicker and thicker open seasons for hunting became shorter and shorter, and wild life scarcer and scarcer.

Three years ago, when we first met, to flush a rabbit was the biggest adventure one might hope to fall upon in a day's hike on the Paulson farm. One snowy Sunday, when we were bemoaning this scarcity of living things on the land, there came to us jointly a flickering recollection of that first theorem of social justice: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Whereupon was born the "Riley Game Cooperative."

Riley, be it known, is a flag-station and a post-office near the Paulson farm. This definition of Riley is meticulously and literally correct.

The term "game cooperative" was not quite so accurate. It was a "cooperative," all right, with one farmer and one sportsman constituting its then membership. But it was more than "game," both of us contributing to the enterprise an incurable interest in all wild things, great and small, shootable and non-shootable. However, we both had an eye cocked on the future, and decided to title only the main issue.

Paulson gathered unto himself six contiguous neighbors. Leopold gathered up five Madison sportsmen, all mutual friends and of the sort whose game pockets contain no quail feathers in pheasant season. Then we moved that the nominations be closed. The idea is that any enduring relationship between sportsmen and farmers must be based on personal confidence, and nobody can have that if the crowd is so large as to need identification tickets. We of the Cooperative can name any other member across the marsh by noting the decrepitude of his particular hunting coat, or by watching the gait or ear-floppings of his particular dog.

Now it so happens that in that same winter of our discontent, when the first theorem of social justice was revealed to us, some senator or assemblyman likewise saw the burning bush. We admit that legislators seldom do this, either in Wisconsin or elsewhere, but this one did. There emerged, as out of a cloud, all duly enacted, the "Wisconsin Shooting Preserve Law," which declared that citizens who owned or controlled land and planted pheasants thereon might shoot, when duly licensed, three-quarters of the number planted, during an all-fall open season, provided there be affixed to the leg of each pheasant so shot a non-reusable metal tag, to be issued by the Conservation Commission, etc. Furthermore, the law prohibited trespass by other citizens on the premises so licensed.

The law specifies pheasants, because these can be raised artificially; and when they are counted out of the coop by the local game warden, the state knows what three- quarters is. The state gets the other quarter "on the hoof," as a private donation, to chalk up to the credit of its restocking program.

We of the Cooperative are no more interested in pheasants than in other game, and still less in shooting pheasants recently let out of a coop. Be it noted, however, that the new law restricts shooting to three-quarters of the number released, not to three-quarters of the identical birds released. We saw in this a chance to build up a wild population and to do our shooting on these wild birds, releasing sufficient tame ones to satisfy the requirements of the law.

Therefore, we took out a shooting-preserve license, posted the seven member farms, and released twenty-five pen-raised pheasants as a starter. None of us shot them, or wanted to, but we all had a lot of fun that first winter maintaining feeding stations "for the succour of said beasts," and, to be honest, for the purpose of holding them on our grounds. It was a mild winter, and these "tame" pheasants soon grew too big and wild to be in need of much "succour."

It was, however, the patronage extended to our feeding stations by non-shootable game which made them fun. Paulson had planted soy-beans under his silage corn. An aftermath of these beans had matured after the corn harvest. At the very first heavy snow these soy-beans drew, out of nowhere, a pack of forty big, husky prairie chickens. No chicken had been seen on the Paulson farm for a decade.

Likewise out of nowhere came a covey of quail. They tried to establish legal residence at one of the pheasant stations, but it was soon evident, from the lawsuits recorded in the snow, that the pheasants disputed their emigration papers, and not always by peaceable means. So we promptly erected an additional station for the quail, and henceforth each species stayed in its own bailiwick.

Before the winter was over a second quail covey, doubtless starved out of some near-by farm, appeared and waxed fat at our expense. Only it shouldn't be called expense—none of us for years had so enjoyed our winter Sundays. As for rabbits, every one within a mile of our boundaries promptly applied for membership in the corn supply of the Riley Cooperative, and when winter was over they stayed to set up housekeeping.

It was a pleasant thing that first spring, as we strolled over these formerly gameless farms, to hear quail whistling in every fencerow and pheasant cocks crowing all over the Sugar Creek marsh. We estimated that our first six months of operation had netted us a respectable pheasant population (some strayed to the "public domain," as predicted by the law) plus an unearned increment of thirty quail, plus bunnies ad infinitum. Our chickens left us for parts unknown after the last snow had melted, but we knew that they would be back.

It was now time to do our stuff under the preserve law. Buying grown pheasants at $2.50 each was too expensive; so we bought 150 eggs, and Mrs. Paulson hatched them under hens. When the game warden came around in August, he counted 70 half-grown birds, which had the free run of the orchard but returned to roost in the brooder-coop with their foster-mothers. This count entitled us to 53 shooting tags (three-quarters of 70), plus those unused last year. These tags are equally distributed among all our members who care to shoot, including farm members.

At this point we hear our sporting readers emit a loud snort at the prospect of shooting these half-tame "artificials." Just a minute, please. These tame hen-raised birds were all headquartered near the farmhouse, around which we blocked off an eighty-acre refuge on which no shooting is allowed. Outside this refuge, ever since the corn was cut last fall, we had been training our dogs on several coveys of big wild birds, the progeny of last year's plantings. It was these wild birds that we hunted when our season opened in October. By late fall the "artificials" had gone wild and spread, by slow degrees, off the refuge, and we probably shot some of them, but at no time had we either the desire or the opportunity to shoot an immature or tame pheasant. Our refuge automatically prevents it. The sketch map on the opposite page shows how this refuge works.

Excerpted from "For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays And Other Writings" by Aldo Leopold. Copyright © 2013 by Aldo Leopold. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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