Leave No Acre Behind: Fetzer science lecturer argues for an all-encompassing view of conservation

There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.
—Wendell Berry

We don’t necessarily feel a strong connection to people far removed from us. A biology student at NWU may not sense much of a connection with another biology student living in New Orleans, for example. But conservation biologist and biographer Curt Meine can name several things connecting them, not the least of which include Salt Creek and the Platte, Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Say that biology student living at the mouth of the Mississippi wants to address the nearby problem of the dead zone at that mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Any remedy to the nearby problem that ignores the behaviors of people far upstream has little chance of succeeding.

Connectedness matters.

That was the two-word version of the message Meine delivered for Nebraska Wesleyan University’s 2012 Fetzer Science Lecture in February. Meine, a science writer and biographer of 20th century conservationist Aldo Leopold, said our tendency to compartmentalize often leads us to miss larger truths. We too often look at land conservation as merely a parks-and-wilderness issue, and not as an agricultural and industrial and urban and rural issue.

There is no such thing as a sustainable city, farm or ranch within an unsustainable landscape.

Meine made a film about Leopold called “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.” “Leopold didn’t say, ‘This place is worth caring about and that place is not worth caring about.’ Every place is worth caring about,” Meine said. “We need to take a ‘leave-no-acre-behind’ approach.”

That approach involves helping ranchers, farmers, industrialists, urbanites, suburbanites, rural people, and people living in small towns and cities to see their shared stake in the land.

“It’s about moving from an urban-rural divide,” he said, to a shared appreciation of what he called a “land use continuum.”

When it comes to conservation broadly, Meine believes our tendency to compartmentalize ourselves is as silly as trying to segment the air we all share and breathe. “There is no such thing,” Meine said, “as a sustainable city, farm or ranch within an unsustainable landscape.”

He showed students images of conservationist farming practices that minimize erosion and adapt to the land rather than commodify it. Terraces and hedgerows in the photos bent and flowed to the shapes of hills and the veins of creeks. “Not only is this kind of farming better for the land, but, God, it’s beautiful.”

Meine’s lecture jumped from wilderness to ranch land to urban gardens to oceans and lakes to skies to small towns and back to show the literally breezy connections between all places and all people. “We can dwell on the things that divide us,” he said, “but we live within a landscape that connects us.”

Dr. W.R. Fetzer (’17) and his wife established the Amos Fetzer and Alice Fetzer Memorial Lecture to bonor the memory of his parents in 1994.

Watch Curt Meine’s lecture at “Watch Live Events”, then select “Fetzer Science Lecture: Dr. Curt Meine”.

See the trailer to Meine’s film, “Green Fire”: