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Leopold Lecture offers an interesting look into conservation and its future

“Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time,” a film about Aldo Leopold’s life and influence over land conservation and the science and ethics that accompany it. The film, which was publicly screened on Monday, April 9 in Nutting Hall, received a regional Emmy award for Best Historical Documentary in 2011. On Tuesday, April 10, the narrator of the film, Dr. Curt Meine, held a lecture titled, “Green Fire in the Making.”

The Aldo Leopold Foundation’s website describes Leopold, who died in 1949 at the age of 62, as a “conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast” who was well known for, among other things, his idea of the “land ethic” which “calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature.” The Aldo Leopold Foundation, which was established in 1982, “works to inspire an ethical relationship between people and nature through Leopold’s legacy.”

Meine began talking about how much Leopold meant and still means to the state of Maine, which is a heavily wooded and nature-centric state. For a long time, wildlife as a university discipline was rare and University of Maine was one of the first four schools to implement a wildlife studies program, much due to Leopold’s influence.

Leopold is the only person in the history of conservation to have a wilderness research institute (at the University of Montana) and center for sustainable agriculture (at Iowa State University) named after him. The film covered a lot of ground and captured many different places Leopold had influenced, from Chicago, to Long Island, to the Midwest ,to New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

Meine stressed throughout the lecture the idea of America’s landscape being a portrait of ourselves as humanity. When asked about his level of optimism about the future generations, he had mixed thoughts.

“There’s no denying that the younger generations have changed the food movement,” Meine said. “Anyone in here who remembers what cafeteria food used to be like compared to the freshness there is today.”

Still, he has his reservations and concerns. Meine says he worries about the younger generations’ addiction and obsession with technology, although he notes that there are still a high amount of farms in the United States that he attributes to young people either starting or continuing the path of conservation.

The audience for the lecture consisted of about 20 students, professors and members of the Orono community. Many of the listeners raised points throughout the lecture. One attendee pointed out that the conservation movement doesn’t have a major head figure like, for example, the Civil Rights movement had someone like Martin Luther King who people could believe in and rally behind. The closest anyone could think of would be former president Theodore Roosevelt, author and activist Rachel Carlson or Leopold.

“What the movement needs more than anything is a young, charismatic leader,” Meine said.

Meine concluded the lecture by discussing the urban-rural divide in the U.S, which is a very political division but one that also goes beyond politics. Meine stressed the idea that there’s something that everyone can do, regardless of where they live, to work toward the shared vision of sustainability.

“Something is sustainable when it contributes in a healthy way,” Meine said.

Leopold was never done with his conservationist work or his ethical ideas and it was his vision for his work to grow even after he was long gone. He wanted conservationists after him to “take his land ethic and further evolve it.” Meine and others from the Aldo Leopold foundation are working to do just that.

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