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Listening to the Next Generation

Youth are the most highly adaptable and exquisitely sensitive portion of the human population. They are wired perfectly for the job of moving us forward.

The Leopold Outlook  – Winter 2012
by Rick Knight, Curt Meine, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Stan Temple

For decades, Aldo Leopold’s writings have been assigned readings on college campuses across the country, in classes across a wide range of disciplines. Generations of students have read Leopold to gain a solid footing in conservation science, history, and ideas. He serves, perhaps uniquely, as a common link across time. The background and legacy of the land ethic is passed along from one generation to the next—for them to analyze, criticize, and extend according to their own  insights.

In the Spring 2012 college semester, the four of us tried an experiment. While preparing for the semester at our respective universities, we realized that we were teaching classes that overlapped in their attention to Leopold and to the land ethic as an evolving concept. At Colorado State University, 76 undergraduates in natural resources enrolled in the Conservation Biology course. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, 18 graduate students participated in the seminar Aldo Leopold  and the Growth of Conservation Thought. And at the University of Arizona, a dozen graduate students read Leopold’s work in the seminar Linking Food Systems to Ecosystems.

All of these classes cover a wide array of topics. They demand that students integrate information from various scientific fields, from history and literature, and from their own experience and interests. In such classes it can be a challenge to find an effective focus. Because Leopold is such a valuable touchstone in conservation studies, we thought it might be useful to give our students one core assignment. We asked them all to prepare short essays addressing the same question: What are the most important things we can and must do to engage your generation—your peers—in exploring, adopting, and advancing the land ethic?

After all, we reasoned, students must not only understand the world as it exists today, but the world that will engage them and their generation for decades to come.


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