Time to Reintroduce Wisconsin to Aldo Leopold

contributed by Hank

Aldo Leopold, though born in Burlington, Iowa, is claimed by many of us as a Wisconsinite.  And why not?  He ran the forest products lab in Madison, and later became a professor of “ecology” at the University of Wisconsin, where he was in charge of the arboretum.  His famous book, “A Sand County Almanac” was inspired by experiences along the Wisconsin River.

Leopold’s pioneering work in what is now called “restoration ecology,”  pointed the way for a sustainable future.  Although he died in 1948, he is still way ahead of our time.  He was that rare combination of scientist and poet whose writings carried great depth of meaning in a deceptively simple prose.

Leopold’s famous Land Ethic:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Our downfall is in considering land a repository of resources for our taking.  Or as Leopold said, “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Perhaps nowhere is this “commodity” perspective more evident than in the so-called “CAFO’s” (confined animal feeding operations) so predominant in Wisconsin these days.  So many animals are crowded into small spaces, that liberal use of antibiotics becomes a necessity.  The amount of manure produced by just a couple of CAFO’s is comparable to that of large cities.  This manure in liquid form is simply hauled in huge tankers and dumped over vast acreage as “fertilizer.”  But mere fertilizers don’t normally  serve as vehicles for a bothersome brew that can contain, among other things, artificial hormones and cleaning compounds.  This potion sullies the countryside, finding its way into streams, lakes, and groundwater.

There is also an aromatic element, infusing the air across Kewaunee County with a pungent odor.  Some have referred to this as smelling Wisconsin’s “dairy-air.”  Pun intended.

The animals in confinement, whether chickens, pigs, or cows, are also reduced to mere commodity.  These so-called “animal units” live an awful life callously crammed into cages.  In some cases they can’t even turn around.

It’s been pointed out that farm subsidies make this kind of “factory farming” possible.  Actual “family farms” are squeezed out, despite being a more efficient means of dairy production, more sustainable, and less harmful to their surroundings.

Conservation in Leopold’s view was far more than mere protection of native flora and fauna.  He saw it as an affirmation of community.  The human connection to land is crucial.

A restored landscape when done “right” is stable, diverse, and beautiful.  Examples can be spotted in Wisconsin, where modest family farms dot the countryside along with forests, meadows, and clean streams.

If we are to provide a future for our own grandchildren and for their grandchildren, we had better change our consumptive ways and get back to a meaningful relationship with the land.  It starts in our own home landscapes… minimize use of toxins and maximize habitat.  Buy dairy products from dairies that are certified BGH free… that is, that don’t purchase from CAFOs.

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo 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.”

Support family farms.  Buy dairy products free of rBGH…

rBGH is recombinant bovine growth hormone, genetically engineered and injected into dairy cows to make them produce more milk.  Don’t give this stuff to your family!   For Wisconsin dairy products free of rBGH enter the attached address and click on Wisconsin:


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8 responses to “Time to Reintroduce Wisconsin to Aldo Leopold

  1. Beagles

    While I applaud you for your passion and concern for quality of our community and its resources, I would like to correct you on one thing.

    “Buy dairy products from dairies that are certified BGH free… that is, that don’t purchase from CAFOs.”

    Any size dairy, whether it be 20 cows or 2,000 cows can use rBGH….and they do. Not all family dairies use the product and neither do large dairies. It is merely an assumption to say all CAFOs use it and family dairies do not, because that’s not the case. You’re better off buying milk that guarantees it free of hormones. There’s no way to know which farm that milk came from, large or small, but at least you’ll have the guarantee it was produced rBHG-free on a farm.


  2. Herman H.

    I really enjoyed this very well written article that revisits Aldo Leopold’s wisdom.. Going one step further, buy LOCAL dairy products not only certified as “Organic” in every meaning of the word, but also check out to make sure the animals graze on open fields in the way they evolved to do and spreading their manure by their own actions in a sustainable fashion. Grazing and working with nature also shuts down the infamous “high capacity wells” used by CAFOs for flushing confined animal waste into giant manure lagoons and thereby polluting hundreds of millions of gallons of precious ground water in the process!
    We must all keep in mind that the only reason CAFOs survive is due to huge subsidies from us the taxpayer. The CAFOs are totally dependent on subsidized milk prices and petro-chemicals (fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and more) and equipment like the so called “anaerobic digesters”. CAFOs also end up being major producers of green house gases (GHGs). GHGs are going to reach disastrous levels in the following decades… a terrible burden to shift to children, grandchildren and all succeeding generations along with grossly unfair long lasting pollution problems.


    • Dale

      excellent points… organic farming used to be known as “farming.” What the heck happened? At some point we decided to sacrifice quality and efficiency on the alter of “Mammon.”


  3. Concerned Citizen

    CAFO does not stand for confined animal feeding operations. It stands for concentrated animal feeding operations. If you are going to purport to know and understand farming and its affiliated programs then I would suggest that you fully comprehend the actual acronym and do ACTUAL unbiased research about the farming community. Any farm can use rBGH as aforementioned. And if you have not paid any attention to breaking media stories in the past few months, organic does not mean free of pesticides or medicine. A large percentage of organic farmers are not as “clean” as you would like them to be. Do some actual research and use scientific links (unbiased) to back your information before you pretend your information is true. Any respectable intellectual scientist would rip your statements to shreds. If needed, I will provide a multitude of scientific journal articles and research to prove your points are false. While I am in support of responsible use of our environment, I will not choose to blindly blame people who do follow regulations and rules in order to sustainably use our environment. Lastly, you obviously have not been to Texas, Oklahoma, or California and seen the confinements to which those animals are held. You’d think twice about griping about Wisconsin’s impeccable dairy standards and living conditions for animals. You might want to pick your battles a little more carefully.


  4. Concerned citizen too!

    A hysterical “rant” on semantics or whose scientists are more “intellectual” and unbiased will NOT make many wrongs into a magical “right”.
    The true objective for all concerned citizens is to change a very flawed unsustainable food system in which less meat and dairy and more NON GMO vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains etc. are placed in the so called food pyramid guidelines for the american diet. The existing food pyramid must be placed under scrutiny of the National Institute of Health and not the the USDA where existing guidelines are formulated via special interest groups with undue influence, namely the dairy, beef, pork and chicken industries.
    In the real world of closer scrutiny, real scientists working in non-coercive
    environments will make the call on WHAT IS TRULY organic, sustainable, healthy and more!


    • Hank

      Thanks to all the contributors … and concerned citizen too in particular, for adding interesting points… it does boil down to nutrition. I suspect we can all agree that future generations are important. Imagine farm subsidies providing support for truly organic sustainable farms. Imagine stable and clean watersheds and wells. How about diets that are predominantly vegetarian and free of added chemicals that are way too interesting.
      Check out this report from Bill Moyers re/ Cuban agriculture:


      • Herman H.

        Bill Moyer’s report is very good. It restates the Cuban crisis examined in the DVD produced by the Arthur Morgan Foundation called “The Power of the Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” This DVD is available at the Algoma Public Library.
        Cuba is certainly a prime example of what an organic revolution can do!
        Imagine, doubling your food supply with a genuinely healthy product consisting of more vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, and greater biodiversity and witnessing a (diet related) sharp drop in type 1 diabetes…the only country in the western hemisphere to be so fortunate!
        The redistribution of mega land holdings, putting citizens back on the land, dignity regained, incomes shared by many, reduced government debt, and more..
        One can hope that next generational americans will see a change in government agricultural policies that are not adversely influenced by the monied few and their political allies.


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