"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Perhaps Aldo Leopold defined it well enough. The word 'conservation' tends to have many meanings in the human language, but as it applies to the land, or the forest, the physical reality of conservation typically evolves from personal whims, emotions, economics, ignorance, and intellect within ourselves. I suppose there can be many variations to the uses of conservation, but we always come back to the one basic premise; that conservation, in practice, is what we perceive it to be. There is always the pure Leopoldian tenet. But as it is with all ethical matters, it's the pursuit that defines it for us.
Conservation is about our choices. We have decided we own this land we divide by invisible lines, and record in some obscure book in a central location in the county. We guard this space jealously as if God had bade it to this one living being, from throughout all these eons of time, to make a welcome fortune from it, while we give little regard to the world around it. Our conservation is about human motive and intent. In reality, conservation has become what we will allow the world to retain so we can continue to be touched by it. Our grand urban forest today is open tribute to our recognition that the concept of forest conservation is within us if even by accident.
As urban dwellers, we are land managers and keepers of trees. In the least, we are their beneficiaries enjoying a little purity and coolness in the air. But we understand them so very little. We interact with them daily sharing in this single community. All the creatures and vegetation flourish around us but we most often go about our own way ignoring the countless miracles staged in the urban forest in which we reside. Many of us do open our eyes once in a while and recognize the majesty of the life around us. We build monuments and speak words of preservation and cherish the planting of a young tree. But then our lives as separate creatures from this world creep in to remind us we belong to a very human world.
Leopold suggested that the importance of the land ethic is not so much in the full attainment of it, but in the pursuit of it. We must strive, as we do in our most personal discussions of harmony between us and our god, for that perfection in harmony between us and the land. Conservation, or any ethic (land or religious), is not a thing which is perfected in our lifetime without the greatest personal sacrifices to all that is living.
We can be in agreement with the land to various degrees of enlightenment, but it is the perception that this agreement is our self-imposed right, and not our mandate as co-habitant of this world, which sets us apart from the land itself. We are in good standing in striving for conservation if we can accept our imperfect role in it. We are allowed to make mistakes. But we should not be so foolish to not learn from them.
We will never achieve the harmony with the land as long as what we perceive as land conservation must be called land conservation. When conservation is not a term but simply a question of living and breathing, then we have attained the unattainable.