Thinking Like A Mountain

Thinking Like A MountainAldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) was an American ecologist, forester and environmentalist. He was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation. He has been called an American prophet, the father of wildlife management, and one of most strongest advocates for conservation.

Thinking Like a Mountain , by Susan Flader, professor of environmental history and policy at the University of Missouri, was the first of a handful of efforts to capture the work and thought of America’s most significant environmental thinker, Aldo Leopold. This account of Leopold’s philosophical journey makes brings much-deserved attention to the continuing influence and importance of Leopold today.

Thinking Like a Mountain unfolds with Flader’s close analysis of Leopold’s essay of the same title, which explores issues of predation by studying the interrelationships between deer, wolves, and forests. Flader shows how his approach to wildlife management and species preservation evolved from his experiences restoring the deer population in the Southwestern United States, his study of the German system of forest and wildlife management, and his efforts to combat the overpopulation of deer in Wisconsin. His own intellectual development parallels the formation of the conservation movement, reflecting his struggle to understand the relationship between the land and its human and animal inhabitants.

Drawing from the entire corpus of Leopold’s works, including published and unpublished writing, correspondence, field notes, and journals, Flader places Leopold in his historical context. In addition, a biographical sketch draws on personal interviews with family, friends, and colleagues to illuminate his many roles as scientist, philosopher, citizen, policy maker, and teacher. Flader’s insight and profound appreciation of the issues make Thinking Like a Mountain a standard source for readers interested in Leopold scholarship and the development of ecology and conservation in the twentieth century.

“My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”

Aldo Leopold Archives

Wolf Eyes
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