Q: How do you define the idea of having a land ethic and how is this useful to your conservation work?

Dan: I think it’s all about relationship and awareness.

Having a relationship with land means you take more care in making decisions that affect land. Being aware of the impacts those decisions will have can help you better meet your goals for the health and productivity of the land.

Allaire: I see a land ethic as a deeply considered, personal connection to land. It evolves as we move through life and the world.

For me, it’s based in observations and experience as well as science. It’s also connected to values and culture. It’s a lens through which I interpret my immediate reactions to things I see on the land. It also impacts how I communicate and make decisions.

For example, part of my land ethic is highly valuing complexity and natural processes in nature. If I am making a decision about land and one option seems like it will decrease complexity or reduce the ability of a natural process, like river movement, to occur, I will strongly question that option.


Q: What got you interested in thinking about a land ethic?

Dan: I was first introduced to Leopold’s Sand County Almanac in college. And, in 2014, I had the chance to join a land ethic workshop hosted by the Aldo Leopold Foundation. It gave me the time to step away from my everyday work, slow down, and reflect on my personal relationship to the land. I enjoyed this, and it helped me realize that there isn’t one correct way to think about land, but rather, a land ethic is something that evolves with you over time; and it’s OK if your perspective changes.

Allaire: I’ve long been interested in humans’ philosophical connections to land. In college I developed an independent major in ‘Environmental Ethics’. I’m also an avid reader and am usually in a couple of book clubs — I love talking with others about literature.

When Dan invited me to a land ethic workshop in 2018, I connected with the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s method of facilitating conversations about land with diverse groups of people, using beautifully written essays by Leopold and many other writers.


Q: What are some of the questions people might reflect on as they consider their own take on a conservation land ethic?

Dan: I’d encourage folks to think about “the why”.

Our lives are full of doing: We tend to be action-oriented and implement conservation actions that have clear outcomes, whether this be for wildlife habitat, climate change, clean water, etc. Slowing down and thinking about why we do these things can be a powerful way to recharge and reconnect.

We should be aware of our individual values and biases and how they will influence our land ethic. Others’ land ethic will be different based on their values, but that doesn’t make them wrong or less valid, just different.

Allaire: I think we build our land ethic by noticing, and then reflecting on, our reactions to things we encounter that connect to land.

How do we feel when we see a bird’s nest? A “posted” sign? A truck full of logs? A crowded mountain summit? A moose grazing in a wetland? A deer carcass at a weigh station? A forest being cleared for agriculture? A farm field reverting to forest?

These things can provoke a range of feelings in one person that will be different from others based on values and experiences. For me the land ethic emerges as we 1) identify our own reactions 2) explore where those reactions are coming from 3) consider what other possible reactions there might be (or ask someone else!); and lastly 4) consider how those reactions connect to the bigger picture beyond us as individuals.


Q: Are there resources you’d recommend to people interested in learning more?

Dan: A Sand County Almanac is a great place to start. The film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time might also be helpful and can be watched for free online. Closer to home, Land Ethic Vermont has collected some reading on their website.

Allaire: Dan’s recommendations are great. I would also add that I had the privilege of interviewing nine New Englanders about their land ethics for Northern Woodlands magazine in 2021, and learned so much from their stories. You might too!