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“Land-Use and Democracy” Revisiting Aldo Leopold’s 1942 essay on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day
“Land-Use and Democracy”
Revisiting Aldo Leopold’s 1942 essay
on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day
Center for International Forestry Research
The Weston Roundtable Lecture
University of Wisconsin-Madison
October 15, 2020
Aldo Leopold, “Land-Use and Democracy,” Audubon
Magazine, 1942. Reproduced in Susan L. Flader and J. Baird
Callicott, editors, “The River of the Mother of God and Other
Essays by Aldo Leopold,” University of Wisconsin Press,
1991, pp. 295-300.
Regulation, Stewardship, Incentives
• Leopold argues that the conservation movement of his time had become overly reliant on direct
government regulation of land use to protect soils, water, forests and wildlife.
• While recognizing the importance of regulation in certain contexts, there were serious limitations
inherent to government action.
• Government lacked the tools to manage directly, and over-relied on the few things it can do well,
such as creating sanctuaries & refuges.
• Moreover, farmers & communities have intimate knowledge of their land and landscapes, and with
the growth of “private ethics” can individually & collectively provide better stewardship of land and
resources than the state. For Leopold, stewardship is grounded ultimately in ethics.
• And consumers educated about the performance, good or bad, of companies using natural resources
could reward or punish company behavior through the choices they make in the market place. This is
another expression of democratic action influencing land use practices & outcomes
The limits of policy and regulation
• “[We] deal with bureaus, policies, laws, and programs, which are the
symbols of our problem, instead of with resources, products, and land-
users, which are the problem. Thus we assuage our ego without
exposing ourselves to contact with reality.” p. 295
Incentives reward but can’t alone create
• “Economic incentives might reward good stewardship, primarily through
differential property taxes (in the US). But good stewardship cannot be created
solely by legislation and tax incentives. The private custodian’s values and
attitudes must also change.”
• “Conservation economics” was undoubtedly conceived as a companion to the
“Land Conservation Ethic” and should be read in tandem with it.”
Introduction, Flader and Callicott, 1991, p. 22
“Why do we tell our government to reform Mr. X,
instead of doing it ourselves?”
• Feathered hats (egret, swan, eagle & hummingbird) were the height of fashion in the early
20th century, representing a threat to the survival of species.
• The Audubon Society catalyzed a grass-roots consumer movement to kill the millinery
feather trade in 1913
• Women consumers played key roles, putting pressure on their peers not to buy feathered
hats, and establishing Audubon chapters as local centers of bird conservation activism.
• The Migratory Bird Act of 1918 consolidated in law the achievements of the movement.
• “The law was merely the symbol of a conviction in the mind of a minority…a conviction so
strong and unequivocal that it was willing to risk direct action, danger and ridicule, and
even danger of mistakes to achieve the common ground”
By Angela Serratore
May 15, 2018
Power of the discerning consumer
• “I do assert that the many products of land-abuse can be identified as
such, and can be discriminated against, given the conviction that it is
worth the trouble.”
• Conversely, the products of good land-use can often be singled out
• Let’s consider how citizen activism in the market place envisaged by
Leopold has taken shape in our time.
Consumer-driven, non-state resource governance
arrangements have emerged globally
The key elements of the architecture:
• Consumer and market expectations that commodities be produced sustainably
• NGO activism catalyzes consumer expectations through monitoring and advocacy
• Investment sector translates consumer signals and NGO advocacy into
reevaluations of risk and opportunity
• Lower interest rates, less risk and higher returns increasingly associated with
Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) investments.
Consumer and financial market drivers of
corporate sustainability commitments
Civil society campaigns target
investor and producer practices
expectations that commodities
are sustainably produced
Shifting business practices. Companies design more socially
equitable, low-carbon business models, e.g. zero deforestation.
Changes facilitated by multiple actors
1. Consumers: create
transition to more
4. NGOs: monitor
criteria, and build
Changing calculus of investor risk
and rewards. “Dirty” practices =
reputational and market risk
2. Investors: create
that fund sustainable
Large potential forest conservation gains from
wider ESG adoption in tropical commodities sectors
A study of drivers of forest loss in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia,
Malaysia and Papua New Guinea between 2000-2011 found that the production of
‘four analyzed commodities--beef, soy, palm oil, timber--was responsible for 40%
of total tropical deforestation and resulting carbon losses.” Henders, et. al. (2015)
Table 1: Certified area for selected commodities, 2017
Commodity Area harvested based on
Share of global total Change 2013–
Bananas 340,196 6.0% 28.6%
Cocoa 2,908,640 24.8% 114.7%
Coffee 2,533,211 23.4% 8.7%
Cotton 5,154,933 16.2% 172.4%
Oil palm 2,537,424 11.9% 26.1%
Soybeans 1,801,269 1.5% -5.9%
Sugarcane 1,979,979 7.6% 80.2%
Tea 668,768 16.4% 77.3%
Note: The data in this table were not adjusted for multiple certifications, thus the minimum possible is reported. The total VSScompliant area corresponds to the standard with the largest compliant area operating within a
given sector by country.
Sources: FiBL-ITC-SSI survey, 2019: 4C Services, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Better Cotton Initiative, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019; Bonsucro, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Cotton made in Africa, 2014,
2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Fairtrade International, 2017, 2018 and 2019; GLOBALG.A.P., 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; FiBL survey, 2019; ProTerra Foundation, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Rainforest Alliance,
2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, 2019; Round Table on Responsible Soy, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Textile Exchange 2013–2019; UTZ, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019
Figure 1: Selected products certified by sustainability
standard (minimum possible), 2008–2017
Note: The products are sorted by area. For the purpose of the
figure, it is assumed that a maximum amount of multiple
certification is occurring within each commodity and the
minimum possible VSS-compliant area is shown. This
corresponds to the standards with the largest compliant area
operating within a given sector.
Sources: FiBL-ITC-SSI survey, 2019: 4C Services, 2014, 2015,
2016, 2018 and 2019; Better Cotton Initiative, 2014, 2015,
2017, 2018 and 2019; Bonsucro, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and
2019; Cotton made in Africa, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and
2019; Fairtrade International, 2017, 2018 and 2019;
GLOBALG.A.P., 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; FiBL survey,
2019; ProTerra Foundation, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019;
Rainforest Alliance, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019;
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, 2019; Round Table on
Responsible Soy, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019; Textile
Exchange 2013–2019; UTZ, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
ESG-mandated assets could make up half of all managed assets in the
United States by 2025
The Brazil Soy Moratorium
• An example of a successful private-sector led initiative to reduce deforestation at
• In 2006 major global soy traders including Cargill, ADM and Bunge required large-
scale soy producers in Brazil to pledge to zero-deforestation in soy production as a
condition for gaining access to the global supply chains they dominate.
• Gibbs, et. al. (2015) found that there was less than 1% increase in deforestation in
areas governed by the Moratorium between 2006 and 2012, while during the two
years previous to the agreement nearly 30% of soy expansion in the same areas
occurred through deforestation.
• During the same period, soy operators that were not signatories to the Moratorium
were five times more likely to violate the Brazil Forest Code than those that were.
“Husbandry is the heart of conservation”
• “The first thing to grasp is that government, no matter how good it is, can only do
• “Govt. can’t raise crops, maintain small scattered structures or administer small
• Or bring to bear…that combination of solicitude, foresight, and skill we call
• “Husbandry watches no clock, knows no season or cessation, and for the most part is
paid for in love, not dollars”
• “Husbandry of somebody else’s land is a contradiction in terms.”
“Aldo Leopold believed that land stewardship was not only
rooted in conservation but also involved ethics, or the search
for a higher meaning. He wrote that all ethics rest upon the
single premise "...that the individual is a member of a
community of interdependent parts. Once we understand that
humans are not separate from, but are part of and depend on
the natural community, we will develop an ethic to care for the
community as a whole.”
Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide,
Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI
The Importance of Rights and Tenure Security
Tenure security: “reflects a “landholder’s confidence or belief (real or
perceived) that agreed-upon rights...will be enforced and upheld by society more
broadly” (Robinson et al. 2017: 4).
• Reduces the uncertainties associated with making investments
• Increases the likelihood that rights holders will perceive that they will benefit from
Types of devolution forest rights models by region
Source: Based on Lawry and McLain, 2012:56. Devolution of Forest
Rights and Sustainable Forest Management. Volume 1.
Baynes et al. (2015) evaluates community forest
governance success factors
Baynes et. al (2015) evaluated potential factors affecting success of community
forestry in the Philippines, Nepal and Mexico
1. Socio-economic status and gender based (in)equality (Fair outcomes)
2. Secure tree & land property (Rights)
3. Community governance (Stewardship)
4. Government support (Appropriate regulation)
5. Material benefits to community members (Incentives)
Namibia community conservancies
• 1996 law accorded ownership and management rights of
wildlife to communities that establish conservancies and
adopt management standards. (Nature Conservation
Amendment Act, 1996) (Rights =[ Stewardship)
• By 2015, 82 conservancies established; covering 162,000
sq. km (19.7% of land area); generating benefits for
227,000 people (9% of population)
• 2014 principal sources of income: Joint-Venture Tourism
(43.5%); Sustainable Wildlife Use (39.9%); Craft
Enterprises (5.2%); Natural Plant Projects (5.2%)
• $10 million annual revenue generated by conservancies (Incentives)
• Strong anti-poaching ethic among conservancy members (Stewardship)
• 1,700 full-time & 4,000 part-time jobs created (including 532 game
guards); income invested in local schools, clinics, water supplies;
human/wildlife conflict mitigation; anti-poaching; greater perception of
voice in governance of resources.
• Growth in wildlife population attributed to conservancies (WWF):
• Elephant: Almost tripled from 7,600 in 1995 to 20,000 in 2018
• Black rhino: 1980 near extinction; 2000 today (40% of Africa’s population)
• Desert lion range increased ten-fold between 1995 & 2013; pop. Grew
from 25 in 1995 to 150 today.
• 10,000+ head of game moved to conservancies since 1999, including
sable, giraffe, black rhino.
Namibia: Challenges/Problems to be addressed
• Variable governance capacity among conservancies (Stewardship)
• Concerns for decline of donor funding for the CBNRM Programme
• Challenge of maintaining household-level benefits; competing land uses
• A small number of conservancies generate most of the revenue, due to
location near major roads, tourist routes, quantity of game, and competing
• Less visited conservancies provide important wildlife habitat/environmental
services but are under-compensated, raising concerns that farmers in those
areas will lose interest in the conservancy approach.(Context matters)
Credit: Hugo Ahlenius,
Community Forestry Concessions in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve
• Located in northern Guatemala, in the Department of El Petén
• The MBR encompasses 2.1 million hectares of lowland tropical rainforest; Mayan forests of
Mexico and Guatemala make up the largest contiguous tropical forest north of the Amazon.
• Established by Congressional Legislative Decree 5-90 established the MBR in 1990; linked to
the peace accord
• Five objectives: conserve biodiversity; maintain the ecological equilibrium of the area;
conserve cultural heritage; provide development alternatives consistent with resource
conservation; promote active participation of society
• Three zones: Core zone (national parks, protected biotopes, wildlife preserves) 36%; Multiple-
use zone (40%); Buffer zone (24%)
• 14 concessions granted in the MUZ since 1995 (12 community and 2 industrial concessions);
25-year concession term.
• Concession sustainable management plans certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
The Mayan Biosphere Reserve
Biophysical and socio-economic outcomes
• Annual deforestation rate 2001-2009 0.5% compared to pre-concession (1991) rate of 1.5%.
(2.0% per year in Peten outside of concessions.)
• Recovery of badly degraded forests across the concession areas. Effective fire control.
• Incomes in forested concessions higher than for those relying mainly on agriculture
• Employment increased, incomes increased (due to employment and dividends), income
sources diversified (hunting, collecting NTFPs, timber, agriculture, off-farm services)
• Most timber sales are generated by mahogany (75%) and cedar (10%-15%), which are not in
great supply & off-take carefully regulated per FSC-certified management plans. Difficult to
commercialize non-traditional species (apart from Xade).
Guatemala: Challenges/problems to be addressed
• Concerns about renewal or permanent extension of the 25-
year leases, though renewals appear underway (Rights)
• US private initiative seeking US Senate funding (S.B. 3131)
that would turn Mayan sites overlapping some concessions
into a privately-managed resort. (Political divisions)
• Limited off-take of high-value mahogany & cedar species
(Importance of diverse income sources)
• Reading Leopold might help us think about a “Regulation—Stewardship—
Incentives” matrix, and relationships among these 3 levers of environmental policy
• The rapid growth of ESG investing, driven in part by consumer expectations that
companies don’t harm the environment or low-income farmers, suggests that values
matter in the market place, with consequences at scale. Govt. regulation in
comparison can seem inefficient and/or heavy-handed.
• Market neo-liberalism has its own limitations.
• Giving greater rein to land-user stewardship is perhaps least honored of the 3 levers.
• Stewardship (applied ethics) can be rewarded, but not easily created.
• The skills & habits of stewardship depend on rights & experience; take root slowly.
• Many have few or weak rights to the resources they use & thus limited management
authority or discretion. Many governments don’t want to let go.
• Stewardship may remain at “the heart of conservation.”
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