Literature Study GuidesA Sand County AlmanacPart 3 Conservation Esthetic Summary

A Sand County Almanac | Study Guide

Aldo Leopold

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A Sand County Almanac | Part 3, Conservation Esthetic : The Upshot | Summary



This essay begins Part 3 of the book. In Parts 1 and 2, Leopold made observations of nature and wove his insights into these observations. In Part 3 he takes a more academic and argumentative approach, using his knowledge and experience of natural and human systems to present a compelling case in support of each argument.

Leopold begins this essay with a look at the idea of outdoor recreation, which people take part in to find peace and enjoy the beauty of nature. As his examples, he describes duck hunters, bird watchers, photographers, and people who drive long distances just to take in the scenery. All of these people have an interest in making sure natural beauty is preserved, but they often are interested in getting something out of the activity—a "trophy" of some sort—not in the activity itself. He notes that there can be outdoor recreation that lacks an aesthetic appreciation of nature. He also points out that an aesthetic appreciation of nature is an important motivator for conservation. In short people approach outdoor activities with "a mixture of appetite and altruism."

However, while human appreciation of nature is good, it can have a downside. Humans may begin manipulating the natural environments to maximize the parts they enjoy most. For example, they may kill off predators to make sure there is plenty of game to hunt. This in turn lessens the experience of nature and hunting because it is too safe and easy. Leopold believes outdoor recreation would be more improved by developing human perception, not by developing nature: "The outstanding characteristic of perception is that it entails no consumption and no dilution of any resource." Learning about ecology can help develop perception, but simply paying attention to the small things in nature is one key. Ideally, outdoor recreationalists grow from a childish trophy-hunter perspective into a more mature appreciation of nature and its intrinsic value.


This essay tackles the different ways people interact with nature, especially those who see value in outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, hiking, nature photography, and similar pastimes. It argues for a new way of seeing human interactions with wilderness areas—without condemning traditional outdoor recreations. Leopold first shows that most traditional outdoor recreation activities involve taking some type of trophy from nature; for example, something hunted or photographed. An avid hunter himself, he is careful to point out that even those who take something away from the wilderness can appreciate its beauty at the same time. However, he raises concerns about the sheer number of people who engage in outdoor recreation and discusses the relative harm of various "trophies." Hunting game, then, is more destructive when done on a large scale than is photography. He also has concerns about the way humans tend to change nature to make it easier and safer to engage in outdoor recreation since these often cause significant harm to the ecosystems.

After raising these concerns, Leopold offers something of a solution. This solution is to develop in humans the depth of perception needed to appreciate the intrinsic value and beauty of nature. By developing in humans this conservation aesthetic, humans can participate in outdoor recreation that doesn't harm nature. In addition Leopold offers practical thoughts on how people might develop this depth of perception. First they can learn to look closely at small bits of nature, like a flower in a field, and see in them the same processes taking place in more dramatic landscapes. They can also learn more about ecology—though he is quick to say this doesn't mean one needs a PhD—and furthermore plenty of people with PhD's lack perception. But he suggests gaining a little knowledge and using it to enhance one's perception. Finally, people who have the ability to manage their land with an eye to leaving some wildness in it should do so.

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