The Land and Land Ethics

Throughout the book Eric Freyfogle uses examples of poems, fictional stories, and true stories to strengthen his view of the land, and land ethics. One such example is that of the poem by Robert Frost called “Mending Wall” where the phrase “Good fences make good neighbors” came from. Freyfogle uses this poem as a precedence throughout the book, making reference to it, and the contradiction of the meaning of the poem, and that people took that phrase literally, and it has become and anthem for the American culture and how they view the land.From the poem on, Freyfogle gives examples of how America has shaped its land, and how boundaries have been set up in American culture. He states, “Boundaries and the bounding process have been central elements of American culture since the first days of settlement. The westward expansion of the country, in fact, was a matter not only of taming the land but also of dividing and bounding it. Through a messy process continuing for generations, an interconnected whole became a collection of parcels and pieces.

As they divided nature, the settlers severed, mentally and sometimes physically, many of the connections that joined nature’s pieces into and organic whole. They had reasons for doing so, of course. But in time, their boundaries and senses of boundedness would take a heavy toll on the land’s health” (pgs.

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6-7). After this statement Freyfogle goes on to give examples of how this happened, and people and places that it happened at. Such as in California when settlers divided the water flows to go to certain places, and companies such as Chauncey & Company that needed water for their sawmill, so they diverted water from Spring Creek in order to do this.

There are many examples that Freyfogle gives throughout the book about the land health and how we need to fix things in order to make it better. He gives examples of people that made mistakes and didn’t have the land’s health in mind. He also gives examples of people that did have the land’s health in mind and how they are the people that we need to look at in order to change the way that the land is being taken care of.He give examples of scenes that “illustrate the complexities of the ongoing debate about how people ought to live on the planet- about what precisely it means to own land, about the ecological and spiritual values of wild places, and about how people should assess environmental risks and legislate pollution limits when their knowledge is incomplete.

….Many land-use practices simply make no financial sense, even when long-term harms are discounted to present value” (pgs. 30-31). Freyfogle then give some solutions and thoughts on what he thinks should be done in order to change the way that the land is bounded, and treated.“Contemporary culture, in short, needs new bearings in the natural order. It needs a broader understanding of moral value and better grasp of the limits of utilitarian calculations.

Empiricism and reason need to yield space to sentiment, intuition, and humility, and the myths surrounding science’s powers need chipping away even while scientists expand their knowledge. Most of all, what’s needed is a more holistic view of the world, one in which humans no longer stand so conspicuously above and apart from other life-forms”(pg. 37).

Freyfogle then talks about the snail darter and land health and land ethics. He discusses Aldo Leopold and what Leopold said about land health; that the land’s basic needs were conserving soil, maintaining water flows and water quality, and mitigating significant human-caused changes in species populations. Freyfogle also talks about individualism and how in America the individual is the one that counts, not the community. He gives the example of Boneyard Creek where once there was a winding, slow-moving stream lined with maples and cottonwoods and sycamores, now it is a tethered ditch, angular and rough, and is polluted all along it’s banks. Freyfogle then discusses how Boneyard Creek fits in the individualistic view of the world.Freyfogle talks about Mat Feltner and how he is a fictional old farmer that tends his land with respect.

He uses old methods of farming, and how he sees himself as a part of the land, and he cares for it and loves it. Freyfogle also talks about “Private property and the American dream.” He talks about land-use, and how it environmental policy and land-use laws need to change with time. He states, “Land-use rules should be viewed as expressions of community values and expectations as well as tools the community uses to promote its goals and defend its well-being. Rules should emerge from community deliberations and evolve over time as circumstances change and as community members collectively refine their knowledge and ethical sensibilities” (pg.

112).The main points that he makes in the book are summarized in the end in seven points that he says “need to be taken if conservation and new land ethic are to gain ground in the new century:Ø Environmental policy needs to focus primarily on the land and other renewable natural resources….. Most of all, though, landscape-level planning needs to begin, aimed at respecting the land’s carrying capacity, preserving its beauty, and guaranteeing its health in perpetuity.Ø Community-based conservation needs to assume center stage, along with other processes that get people involved as citizens.

Ø A clear and specific goal is needed to guide and explain the conservation agenda, a holistic goal focused on community well being.Ø Boundaries on the land and in the human mind need to be rethought.Ø The bundle of rights landowners possess needs reshaping so that owners are required to use private property in ways consistent with the land’s health… As a culture, America needs to move beyond the myth of conquest and domination to see private ownership as a matter of respecting the land and using it in responsible ways.Ø In the messages it conveys and the arguments it presents, the environmental movement needs to challenge the dominance of individualism in modern culture- the dominance, that is, of liberal autonomy and free-market ways of viewing the world as a collection of pieces.Ø Finally, there is and indispensable need for good stories, stories about how people and land come together, about present generations joining hands with past and future ones, about people regaining intimacy and friendship with other species, about nature’s inherent mystique and the limits of human knowledge, about the joys of communal life, and about the resettlement of the American land” (pgs. 174-176).This book was of real interest to me.

I never really thought about a lot of the things that Freyfogle discusses in the book. He gives examples of places and times that actually happened to support his points. He also gives examples of people that have written about the land and how we need to rethink the American values that we have, almost built within us.I do feel however that a lot of the things that he suggests that we do as an American society will never happen. He talks about people coming together as a community, not letting the boundaries of counties separate us, but as a community of a river, or a forest, which I think is not going to happen, at least not for a long time.

People in this country love owning land, and they only see it in present terms, no one really thinks about the future generations, or who will own the land next.Even our President doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions toward the land today for future generations. He could care less if his grandchildren have clean water, or air, or are able to swim in the ocean, all he cares about is his lifetime and how the land can be used to benefit it, not future generations. I think as long as we have someone like that representing our country, how are we to act differently than that.

He is our role model and most people look up to him and agree with  his ideas about the land.Our views on the way we treat the land isn’t going to change until the people change, and demand that the laws about the land’s health are changed, which I don’t think will happen in my lifetime. That is why I think that Freyfogle is reaching when he states that things can change and gives examples of the ways that it can change.The book definitely made me reconsider how I want to live my life, and how I want to treat the land. Who knows, maybe just me and a few of my classmates that are reading the book as well can pass along the knowledge that we learned and become motivated to change things in our own community.

To stand up and say that we want regulations changed, that we don’t want to pollute our rivers anymore, and the laws need to change.The examples he gave were inspiring and taught me a lot about what goes on in the rest of the country that I had no idea about, and about the past and what has gone on with laws and regulations about the land.Overall I really liked the book, and thought that he made a lot of good points and gave hard evidence of how we might change the way America, and it’s land is thought about and treated.