This has been on my mind for decades! Please be aware that there are some very good people in resource agencies and some of them are friends of mine and I think in their hearts some are more with me than against me? What is triggering this post is how hunting and fishing groups advocate for game species when, as in the case of white tailed deer, are so over populated they are impacting forest ecology. Rather than re-work my post, I took it out of my book which I believe is concise:

"About fifteen years ago, I was told by a retired MN DNR wildlife manager that early in his career there was a fifty-fifty balance between politics and good land stewardship in the decision making process within the DNR. He went on to tell me that he feels the balance is currently more like eighty-twenty or ninety-ten; politics over conservation. Over seventy years ago, Leopold in his essay the “Land Ethic” got to the core of the tug of war between these two camps, sub-titled “Land Health and the A-B Cleavage.” The A and B are the two schools of thought that he categorizes in the conservation thinking of his day. Leopold describes group A as regarding land as a commodity with principle concerns being board feet, numbers of pheasants and trout harvested, and bushels per acre and group B as regarding the land as a biota with complex ecological interconnections, its function much broader than what group A sees as sustainable land use. Leopold advocates that forestry, wildlife management and agriculture needs to look beyond economic goals and manage the land for the health of watersheds, diversity of plant and animal communities, wilderness areas, threatened species, and the role of predators. Leopold as a trained forester harshly criticizes his own field as it “feels no inhibition against violence; its ideology is agronomic.” Nearly seventy years later, we have not yet progressed in our thinking and, in fact, may have moved backwards. 

Yes, we have had some great successes in wildlife, with the passage of the Endangered and Threatened Species Act in 1973, but we have also seen some great losses and I would argue that the successes have come more from ordinary people who have taken it upon themselves to fight for what is the right thing rather than from those people administering conservation bureaus. Thus far in protecting America’s environment, commerce is the winner. 

At this point, I think it is of particular interest to consider Leopold’s use of the language when he said, “It feels no inhibition against violence,” in his description of type A in forestry practices. I, in my own mind, do not think he is specifically citing the word “violence” in a singular manner, I think he is using it in a broader way as when thinking of a timber sale or a broader scope impact on the land like mining. I remember visiting with an Ojibwe friend, a woman, who told me that when she was a little girl and she and her family would leave their home in a car and saw a big logging truck coming out of the woods loaded down with logs, her Mother told her that those trees, cut down and piled onto that truck, reminded her of Jews being murdered in mass in the Nazi concentration camps. I had to think about that as I have always tried to be careful in not condemning extractive industries to an extent and to be careful in public to acknowledge the importance of wood, minerals, and oil in our everyday life, but when mulling over the statement made by my friend about mass killings of trees and equating them to people, made me think. When I was preparing a plan for timber harvesting on my own land I know that I spent a great deal of time marking different trees to be saved for my own reasons, whether I saw them as habitat, cover, food sources, or nesting, among a number of reasons. With public timber sales they generally neglect the impact of other species, both animal and plant, that reside in a community. We see wildlife as being animate but often fail to think of trees and plants as living beings. I think what Leopold meant when he wrote, “it feels no inhibition against violence,” we need to think in broader terms with consideration given to the interconnection of all life. My Ojibwe lady friends’ analogy has stuck with me.

In my life time I have seen a shift in the DNR from a balance between group A and B to an agency that is guided more by politics and economics rather than what is good for the health of the land. And with the rise in power of special interests and corporate America the DNR often performs its tasks more as an agent to industry than an agency looking out for the health of the land."

Barry Babcock

Author of Teacher's in the Forest