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Dr. Curt Meine

Dr. Curt Meine, a conservation biologist and writer based in Sauk County, Wisconsin, keynoted the general session. Dr. Meine is a Senior Fellow with the Chicago-based Center for Humans and Nature and with the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin; a Research Associate with the International Crane Foundation (also in Baraboo); and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has authored and edited several books, including the biography Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (reissued in a new edition in 2010) and Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation (2004). He also serves as the on-screen guide in the Emmy Award-winning documentary film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time (2011). He has recently edited for the Library of America the definitive collection of Leopold’s writings, Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac and Other Essays on Ecology and Conservation (2013).

Dr. Meine, a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, began his remarks by talking about his early memories of times in the outdoors. He described it as a time of canvas tents, frogs, and hissing Coleman lanterns. It was a time spent with is family, especially his grandparents. He acknowledged that these experiences set him on his conservation journey – a personal commitment to the land.

As he began to weave his story about conservation, he invoked the roles of several Pennsylvanians, starting with William Penn, who in his 1681 Charter set forth the need to conserve at least one acre of forest for every five acres cleared, with special instructions to conserve mulberry and oak. He recalled the efforts of Gifford Pinchot, Joseph Rothrock, Rosalie Edge, Myra Dock, and Rachel Carson all who set into motion ripples that spread far and wide.

Despite the efforts of these Pennsylvanian’s, forest exploitation is part of our history. We live in a state that was the heart of the industrial revolution and where much of the land bears scars of extraction. He used our past relationship with land and forests to create a link to Aldo Leopold who is well known for his writings and the land ethic, which appeared in the Sand County Almanac published in 1949, a year after his death. As we depleted the forests of Pennsylvania early in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Pinchot Family of Milford, Pennsylvania took important steps to bring professional forestry to American by starting the Yale Forestry Camp. Leopold was an early graduate of the Yale program and began working for the US Forest Service in 1924. Through Leopold’s professional training and lessons learned through a life focused on conservation, he eventually understood that the health of the land was critical and to achieve that we had to embrace all the components – land, water, wildlife, and people. Health includes all the parts.

Dr. Meine then pursued three themes in his remarks: Private Lands, Part of a Community, and Legacy across generations, which emerge from Leopold’s writings.

Reflecting first on private lands and how we relate to it he emphasized that our relationship to land is personal. Leopold said, "Conservation means harmony between men and land. When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation. When one or the other grows poorer we do not.... It is the individual farmer who will weave the greater part of the rug on which America stands." (The Farmer as a Conservationist, essay 1939).

If we are to be one with the land, and recognize that land is part of the community to which we all belong, Leopold offered, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” (Sand County Almanac, 1949).

How we treat the land, especially across generations, is a legacy that we leave to those who will follow. This is a particularly evident issue facing Pennsylvania’s forests as we look to the future of Penn’s Woods. A long-term relationship between land and people is something that evolves over time and is part of what we have to pass on. Leopold saw that this relationship has to evolve and said, “Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land” (Wisconsin Wildlife Chronology, 1940)

In closing, Dr. Meine encouraged us to think about the future of Penn’s Woods and how it is a significant resource that depends on the relationship between people and the land, and that the health of that land is dependent on the actions of individuals and everyone collectively. He emphasized that the stewardship of the forest is our responsibility today and of those who will follow. It is truly a resource that extends beyond our individual lifetimes. We have challenges – climate, fragmentation, invasive species, water, and social and economic woes. To address these challenges, he offered that politics fragment and divide communities and it is time not to dwell on divisions, but rather it is a time to for us to connect by the landscapes that connect us.