What Is a Conservationist?

As we at Save the Redwoods League begin to focus on managing and restoring land as much as on acquiring it, we will need to ask ourselves hard questions about what it means to be a conservationist these days.

What we do, and why we do it, affects the land — from the smallest flower to the mightiest redwood.
What we do, and why we do it, affects the land — from the smallest flower to the mightiest redwood.

Chief among these questions may be: Should a conservation group cut trees? How can we really know what is for the “good of the forest”? How do we save tomorrow’s redwoods in a world so different from that of our forebears?

I don’t have all of the answers to these questions today. During the years I’ve spent practicing forestry, I continually face these conundrums. Time and again I turn to the words of Aldo Leopold, whose vision and ethic ring true now as ever.

“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.” Aldo Leopold, Axe-in-Hand

When individuals and organizations decide to cut trees, why do we do it? At the League, that’s one question we can answer. We’re motivated by the effect that tree’s absence will have on the forest’s development; and if we thin trees, it’s not for their commercial value, but because doing so reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire and creates a healthier landscape.

Here at the League we do so much of our conservation work with our keyboards and pens.  Contracts, memoranda and easements all do their part to save redwoods with the click of a key or the stroke of a pen.  As we begin to do more with the axe, as we weigh the merits of working forests, or restoration thinnings, as we decide which trees must die so that others may flourish, we would do well to keep Leopold’s wise words in mind.

Leave a comment and tell us what you think it means to be a Conservationist.

Avatar for Richard Campbell

About the author

Richard joined the League’s staff in 2012 as the Conservation Science Manager and now serves as Director of Restoration. He brings nearly a decade of experience in forest management and restoration.

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