Land Ethic Leader to Speak at Hitchcock Nature Center

Land Ethic Leader to Speak at Hitchcock Nature Center

Pottawattamie County Conservation is excited to host Thomas Dean, PhD. to Hitchcock Nature Center as part of our 2017 Speaker Series. Thomas Dean is trained as a Land Ethic Leader through the Aldo Leopold Foundation, a program that seeks to both introduce Leopold’s land ethic to a wider audience and also to deepen understanding and engagement through dialogue about the meaning and value of conservation. Join us for “Land Ethics” on Saturday August 12th and enjoy a screening of the Emmy Award-winning Aldo Leopold documentary Green Fire and a discussion of the film and Leopold’s land ethic.
Following the film and discussion attendees are invited to join us in the gallery to meet our speaker directly and enjoy refreshments. We will be serving smokey bacon pork burgers donated by ELTEE Mangelista’s LLC. a family farm in northeast Nebraska serving up Nebraska grown gourmet pork! You don’t want to miss this amazing speaker and delicious food so register for you seats today! 
Get to know this multi-talented speaker and prepare for his upcoming presentation, “Land Ethics” coming up August 12th at 4:00 p.m. This event is free with paid park admission & will be held at the Loess Hills Lodge. Click here for more information. 
Launched this summer, the 2017 Speaker Series is a new programming series designed for teens and adults to provide them with an opportunity to learn from and interact with various authorities in the fields of conservation and environmental science. Programs are free with paid park admission and will be held at Hitchcock Nature Center on the second Saturday of the month, May through October. Each program will begin at 4:00 p.m. and will last approximately 1 hour. After the presentation attendees may enjoy conversation with the presenter, a book signing, and refreshments provided by local vendors. Space is limited at these events and refreshments are served so we ask that you pre-register and reserve your spot in advance. Click here to register online in minutes or give us a call at 712-328-5834.
In preparation for our July event, Pottawattamie County Conservation’s Kristen Bieret sat down with Thomas to discuss his background, inspiration, and his upcoming talk at Hitchcock Nature Center.

aldo leopold

Tell me a little about your background.

Since receiving my doctorate in English at the University of Iowa, I have taught college and worked in higher education communications for my entire career. Writing has always been central to what I do, and my own writing focuses heavily on issues of living well in place and community, the idea of home, and our relationship with the natural world. My first book of essays, Under a Midland Sky (Ice Cube Press, 2008), focuses on all these issues, exploring what it means to live in the Midwest, with a general theme of the phenomena of the big sky above us. Currently, I am working on a collaborative project (with Cindy Crosby, a writer and naturalist from Illinois) of photographs and essays on the prairie.
Photo courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, via Flickr

Photo courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, via Flickr

What sparked your interest in the natural world?

Although I grew up in and have lived most of my adult life in what would be called prairie states or prairie areas of states, my earliest consciousness of the natural world was probably sparked by family vacations in the North Woods of Wisconsin, which has continued in my family’s love for the North Woods of Minnesota. Exploring what to me was that exotic deep northern forest inspired a fascination with the wonders of nature. As I got older and came to understand and work with the importance of a sense of place, I deepened my connections with and appreciation for the landscapes of my everyday life, past and present. I think my love of prairie was always in me, but it didn’t come to the surface until I was ready to understand it better in adulthood. I have always been an avid reader, so nature and environmental writing has played an increasing role in my literary life as time has gone on, widening my understanding and love for the natural world even more.

What are some highlights we can expect from your presentation?

The central idea of the program is Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic,” which is arguably the most important ecological and conservation idea of the twentieth century and continues to inform our understanding of our responsibilities regarding the natural world. The land ethic fundamentally changed how we view the natural world—as an interdependent system, or “biotic community,” as Leopold said, that also includes humans. As he says in A Sand County Almanac, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” Leopold’s ethical imperative says, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” That’s a simple idea in some ways—it states clearly what is right and wrong—but it has complicated implications for how to live in the world, especially the modern world we’ve created. The program will ask us all to reflect on a natural place that is important to us in some way and how Leopold’s land ethic challenges us to care for it. The centerpiece of the program is a screening of the award-winning documentary Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time (sponsored by the Aldo Leopold Foundation), which explores how Leopold developed the land ethic throughout his life and how it is important—and living—in the world today.
Hitchcock Nature Center at Sunset

Hitchcock Nature Center at Sunset

Why is conservation important to you?

I firmly believe that Leopold’s land ethic is an imperative. We have a moral and ethical obligation, as well as a practical necessity, to respect and care for the natural world that is our home and the home of millions of other plant and animal species. An understanding of the larger ecological interconnections of the natural world is crucial to a conservation ethic as well. Simply put, conservation is just the right thing to do. And it has never been more important given the challenges we face today.

Would you like to share any suggested books or publications for participants who are interested in learning more prior to the event in August?

Probably the best thing to read would be Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac itself. It is a great book to read for the writing itself, the ideas it articulates, and the beautiful depiction of the Midwestern natural world. If you’ve read the book before, it’s always great to return to it. If you’re interested in more background on Aldo Leopold’s life and development as a thinker, writer, and conservationist, Curt Meine’s biography Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work is excellent.