A Sand County Almanac | Study Guide

Aldo Leopold

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



This essay begins, "Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization," yet Leopold notes that wilderness is itself full of variety and so gives rise to a variety in civilization. He also worries modern transportation and expansion of the human population will ruin both wilderness and diversity. The question, he asks, is whether humanity can preserve the values wilderness once imparted even while these changes are taking place. He asks that some "tag-ends" or "remnants" of wilderness be saved. Wilderness is, for many, a source of recreation. Canoeing and backpacking are "arts" that should be preserved, even as a form of recreation, because they have value.

Humanity, through medicine and public health, and land, through agriculture and conservation, has been controlled and managed by human systems. Both humans and land can become sick. These symptoms of land sickness include the disappearance of organisms without "visible cause." Good conservation, meant to solve this problem, requires the study of wilderness. It also requires the enlargement of protected places (such as national parks and forests) so they include space to maintain enough top predators.


In this essay Leopold begins on familiar ground as he discusses how wilderness has shaped human civilization. He touches on the way humans use wilderness for recreation and the value in that use, as he did in "Conservation Esthetic" and "Wildlife in American Culture." Having established that wilderness is good, he makes "a plea for the preservation of some tag-ends of wilderness, as museum pieces, for the edification of those who may one day wish to see, feel, or study the origins of their cultural inheritance."

To his often-repeated argument that wilderness should be preserved because it is good for humans to interact with it, he adds a new point, pointing out that people need wilderness because they need to be able to see what healthy ecosystems look like. By studying healthy wilderness areas, people can learn how to keep other areas healthy, or at least learn how to do less harm. Wilderness areas "have value as norms for land science."

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