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The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays.

"The practice of conservation must spring from a conviction of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right only when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the community, and the community includes the soil, waters, fauna, and flora, as well as people."

ALONG WITH Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, Aldo Leopold is among the most frequently quoted authors in conservation circles today, even though the public has had limited access to his work.

Except for A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There--a slender volume of natural history vignettes and philosophical essays that was published posthumously--most of Leopold's articles were available only through a scattering of outdated magazines, until now.

With the publication of the paperback edition of The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays, scholars Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott have distilled into a single volume the breadth and penetration of Leopold's thought. From the pretentious celebratory writing of an adolescent to the reflective and vivid prose that characterized his mature works, The River of the Mother of God offers the reader the best and most representative of Leopold's more than 500 articles, essays, speeches--and yes, even poems.

Editors Flader and Callicott have selected, and organized chronologically, 59 examples from Leopold's published and unpublished works that best reflect the gradual unfolding of his thoughts on a variety of topics, including conservation ecology and economics, wilderness preservation, wildlife management, natural aesthetics, and environmental ethics.

For example, "The Varmint Question" (1915) illustrates his early ecological thinking. In this essay, Leopold advocates eradication of all predators in Southwestern forests as a way to protect game. This essay contrasts sharply with "Conversation in Mexico" (1937) in which a shift in attitude toward predators and fire is most evident. In each of these essays, readers will see the seeds of thoughts brought to full flower in Leopold's intellectual milepost, "The Land Ethic," which deals with the interdependence of people and nature. In his later years, Leopold himself wrote: "No important change in human conduct is ever accomplished without internal change in our intellectual emphasis, our loyalties, our affections, and our convictions."

Of particular interest are Leopold's reflection on the national parks. As a Forest Service employee and strong advocate of multiple-use stewardship, Leopold criticized the National Park Service's early emphasis on the preservation of only the nation's superlative "natural and scenic wonders." In "A Criticism of the Booster Spirit" (1923), Leopold also took NPS to task for its propensity to sacrifice "quality to gain quantity" to meet the desires of local tourism boosters who, he believed, should not drive public policy. He also had little regard for the Park Service's wildlife program, as he considered it "befogged with the abstract concept of inviolate sanctuary." As people still do today, Leopold also bemoaned the destruction of parks and forests through overuse. Writing in 1937, he wryly lamented "the condition of the national parks and forests, which are so badly damaged that only tourists and others ecologically color-blind can look upon them without a feeling of sadness and regret."

This book should do much to enhance Leopold's popular reputation, as it gives new inspiration to the man's legacy. It is a must-have for land managers or naturalists and a must-read for any dedicated conservationist.

The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold; softcover, $14.95, hardcover $24.95; published by University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin.
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Author:Craig, Bruce
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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