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Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold
Leopold (left) in 1946
Born (1887-01-11)January 11, 1887
Burlington, Iowa
Died April 21, 1948(1948-04-21) (aged 61)
Baraboo, Wisconsin
Occupation Author, ecologist, forester, and nature writer
Nationality American
Subject Conservation, land ethic, land health, ecological conscience
Notable works A Sand County Almanac
Spouse Estella Leopold
Children A. Starker Leopold, Luna B. Leopold, Nina Leopold Bradley, A. Carl Leopold, Estella Leopold

Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948) was an American author, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which has sold more than two million copies.

Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation. His ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement, with his ecocentric or holistic ethics regarding land.[1] He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management.[2]


  • Early life 1
  • Schooling 2
  • Career 3
  • Ideas 4
  • Nature writing 5
    • A Sand County Almanac 5.1
    • Land Ethic 5.2
  • Legacy 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa, on January 11, 1887. His father, Carl Leopold, was a businessman who made walnut desks; and his mother, born Clara Starker, was Carl's first cousin. Charles Starker, father of Clara and uncle of Carl, was a German immigrant, educated in engineering and architecture.[3] Rand Aldo was named after two of Carl's business partners—C. W. Rand and Aldo Sommers—although the "Rand" was eventually dropped. The Leopold family included younger siblings Mary Luize, Carl Starker, and Frederic.[4] Leopold's first language was German,[5] although he mastered English at an early age.

Aldo Leopold's early life was highlighted by the outdoors. Carl would take his children on excursions into the woods and taught his oldest son woodcraft and hunting.[6] Aldo showed an aptitude for observation, spending hours counting and cataloging birds near his home.[7] Mary would later say of her older brother, "He was very much an outdoorsman, even in his extreme youth. He was always out climbing around the bluffs, or going down to the river, or going across the river into the woods."[8] He attended Prospect Hill Elementary, where he ranked at the top of his class, and then, the overcrowded Burlington High School. Every August, the family vacationed in Michigan at the forested Les Cheneaux Islands in Lake Huron, which the children took to exploring.[9]


Leopold's entry in the Yale Sheffield Scientific School yearbook, 1908

In 1900, Gifford Pinchot, who oversaw the newly implemented Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, donated money to Yale University to begin one of the nation's first forestry schools. Hearing of this development, the teenage Leopold decided on forestry as a vocation.[10] His parents agreed to let him attend The Lawrenceville School, a preparatory college in New Jersey in order to improve his chances of admission to Yale. The Burlington High School principal wrote in a reference letter to the headmaster at Lawrenceville that Leopold was "as earnest a boy as we have in school... painstaking in his work.... Moral character above reproach."[11] He arrived at his new school in January 1904, shortly before he turned seventeen. He was considered an attentive student, although he was again drawn to the outdoors. Lawrenceville was suitably rural, and Leopold spent much time mapping the area and studying its wildlife.[12] Leopold studied at the Lawrenceville School for a year, during which time he was accepted to Yale University. Because the Yale School of Forestry granted only graduate degrees, he first enrolled in Sheffield Scientific School's preparatory forestry courses for his undergraduate studies.[13] While Leopold was able to explore the woods and fields of Lawrenceville daily, sometimes to the detriment of his studying, in Yale he had little opportunity to do so; his studies and social life engagements made his outdoor trips few and far between.[14]


In 1909, Leopold was assigned to the Forest Service's District 3 in the Arizona and New Mexico territories. At first, he was a forest assistant at the Apache National Forest in the Arizona Territory. In 1911, he was transferred to the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico. Leopold's career, which kept him in New Mexico until 1924, included developing the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon, writing the Forest Service's first game and fish handbook, and proposing Gila Wilderness Area, the first national wilderness area in the Forest Service system.[15]

On April 5, 1923, he was elected an associate member (now called "professional member") of the

  • Aldo Leopold Foundation
  • Leopold Heritage Group
  • The Aldo Leopold Archives Digitized archival materials held by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Archives.
  • Leopold Conservation Award
  • Excerpts from the Works of Aldo Leopold
  • Works by or about Aldo Leopold in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • (film)Green Fire – Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for our Time screener on YouTube
  • The Land Ethic—
  • The Encyclopedia of Earth
  • Rand Aldo "Aldo" Leopold at Find a Grave
  • Leopold Education Project
  • Aldo Leopold: Learning from the Land Documentary produced by Wisconsin Public Television

External links

  • Callicott, J. Baird. 1987. Companion to A Sand County Almanac: Interpretive and Critical Essays. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-11230-6.
  • Errington, P.L. 1948. "In Appreciation of Aldo Leopold". The Journal of Wildlife Management. 12(4)
  • Flader, Susan L. 1974. Thinking like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-0167-9.
  • Knight, Richard L. and Suzanne Riedel (ed). 2002. Aldo Leopold and the Ecological Conscience. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514944-0.
  • Lannoo, Michael J. 2010. Leopold's Shack and Ricketts's Lab: The Emergence of Environmentalism. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26478-6.
  • Lorbiecki, Marybeth. 1996. Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire. Helena, Mont.: Falcon Press. ISBN 1-56044-478-9.
  • McClintock, James I. 1994. Nature's Kindred Spirits. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-14174-8.
  • Meine, Curt. 1988. Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-11490-2.
  • Newton, Julianne Lutz. 2006. Aldo Leopold's Odyssey. Washington: Island Press/Shearwater Books. ISBN 978-1-59726-045-9.
  • Nash, Roderick. 1967. Wilderness and the American Mind, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Sutter, Paul S. 2002. Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement. Seattle: University of Washington press. ISBN 0-295-98219-5.
  • Tanner, Thomas. 1987. Aldo Leopold: The Man and His Legacy. Ankeny, Iowa Soil Conservation Soc. of America.
  • Petersen, Harry L. (Fall 2003). "Aldo Leopold's Contribution to Fly Fishing" (PDF). The American Fly Fisher (American Museum of Fly Fishing) 29 (4): 2–10. Retrieved 2014-11-16. 


  1. ^ Phillip F. Cramer, Deep Environmental Politics: The Role of Radical Environmentalism in Crafting American Environmental Policy (1998)
  2. ^ Errington, pp. 341–350
  3. ^ Hum 1 Notes: Leopold. Retrieved on 2013-03-23.
  4. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 7
  5. ^ Meine, p. 15
  6. ^ Meine, p. 18
  7. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 14
  8. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 9
  9. ^ Meine, p. 22
  10. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 24
  11. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 25
  12. ^ Meine, pp. 37–38
  13. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 31
  14. ^ Meine, p. 52
  15. ^ a b c d Meine
  16. ^ "Boone and Crockett Club Archives". 
  17. ^ Raitt, RJ (1984). "In Memoriam: A. Starker Leopold" (PDF). Auk 101 (4): 868–871.  
  18. ^ Mark Staves and Randy Wayne. (December 3, 2009.) "In Memoriam: A. Carl Leopold". The Lansing Star. Retrieved on February 2, 2010.
  19. ^ Lorbiecki, p. 179.
  20. ^ Susan L. Flader, Thinking Like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves and Forests. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974, p. 29.
  21. ^ "Ritualizing Big History March 14, 2013". 
  22. ^ Leopold, A. A Sand County Almanac (1970 ed.) p. 262)
  23. ^ Leopold, Aldo Thinking Like a Mountain
  24. ^ Lorbiecki, quote on back cover
  25. ^ "[5]"
  26. ^ "[6]"
  27. ^ "[7]"
  28. ^ "[8]"
  29. ^ Aldo Leopold Wilderness,
  30. ^ About Us. Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, Providing Scientific Leadership to Sustain Wilderness
  31. ^ "Find a Wisconsin State Trail". Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved on January 31, 2010.
  32. ^ "Governor Doyle Names State Trails 'Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System'". WI Office of the Governor: Media Room. Retrieved on January 31, 2010.
  33. ^ "State trails now a legacy to Aldo Leopold". (June 5, 2009.) Capitol Times. Retrieved on January 31, 2010.
  34. ^ The Leopold Heritage Group


See also

  • Report on a Game Survey of the North Central States (Madison: SAAMI, 1931)
  • Game Management (New York: Scribner's, 1933)
  • A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford, 1949)
  • Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold (New York: Oxford, 1953)
  • A Sand County Almanac and Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation (New York: Library of America, 2013)


A charter school in Silver City, New Mexico was named after Leopold.

An organization, The Leopold Heritage Group, is "dedicated to promoting the global legacy of Aldo Leopold in his hometown of Burlington, Iowa."[34]

The Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System, a system of 42 state trails in the state of Wisconsin, was created in 2007.[31][32][33]

The U.S. Forest Service established the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute at the University of Montana Missoula in 1993. It is "the only Federal research group in the United States dedicated to the development and dissemination of knowledge needed to improve management of wilderness, parks, and similarly protected areas."[30]

The Aldo Leopold Wilderness was named after him in 1980.[29]

Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute

The Aldo Leopold Foundation of [25] The Aldo Leopold Foundation owns and manages the original Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm and 300 surrounding acres, in addition to several other parcels. Its headquarters is based at the green-built Leopold Center, where it conducts educational and land stewardship programs. The foundation also acts as the executor of Leopold’s literary estate, encourages scholarship on Leopold, and serves as a clearinghouse for information regarding Leopold, his work, and his ideas. It provides interpretive resources and tours for thousands of visitors annually, distributes a curriculum about how to use Leopold's writing and ideas in environmental education,[26] and maintains a robust website and numerous print resources. In 2012, in collaboration with the United States Forest Service, the foundation released the first high definition, full-length film about Leopold, entitled Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.[27] The film aired on public television stations across the nation and won a Midwest regional Emmy award in the documentary category.[28]


"This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."
"The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land."

Leopold explained:

In "The

Land Ethic

The concept of a trophic cascade is put forth in the chapter, "Thinking Like a Mountain", wherein Leopold realizes that killing a predator wolf carries serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem[23] — a conclusion that found sympathetic appreciation generations later:

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. (p.262)

The book was published in 1949, shortly after Leopold's death. One of the well-known quotes from the book which clarifies his land ethic is,

A Sand County Almanac

Leopold's nature writing is notable for its simple directness. His portrayals of various natural environments through which he had moved, or had known for many years, displayed impressive intimacy with what exists and happens in nature. He offered frank criticism of the harm he believed was frequently done to natural systems (such as land) out of a sense of a culture or society's sovereign ownership over the land base – eclipsing any sense of a community of life to which humans belong. He felt the security and prosperity resulting from "mechanization" now gives people the time to reflect on the preciousness of nature and to learn more about what happens there, however, he also wrote, "Theoretically, the mechanization of farming ought to cut the farmer's chains, but whether it really does is debatable."[22]

Nature writing

The concept of "wilderness" also took on a new meaning; he no longer saw it as a hunting or recreational ground, but as an arena for a healthy biotic community, including wolves and mountain lions. In 1935, he helped found the Wilderness Society, dedicated to expanding and protecting the nation's wilderness areas. He regarded the society as "one of the focal points of a new attitude—an intelligent humility toward Man's place in nature."[20] Science writer Connie Barlow says Leopold wrote eloquently from a perspective that today would be called Religious Naturalism. [21]

By the 1930s, Leopold was the nation's foremost expert on wildlife management. He advocated the scientific management of wildlife habitats by both public and private landholders rather than a reliance on game refuges, hunting laws, and other methods intended to protect specific species of desired game. Leopold viewed wildlife management as a technique for restoring and maintaining diversity in the environment rather than primarily as a means of producing a surplus for sport hunting.[15]

By the early 1920s, Leopold had concluded that a particular kind of preservation should be embraced in the national forests of the American West. He was prompted to this by the rampant building of roads to accommodate the "proliferation of the automobile" and the related increasingly heavy recreational demands placed on public lands. He was the first to employ the term "wilderness" to describe such preservation. Over the next two decades he added ethical and scientific rationales to his defense of the wilderness concept. In one essay, he rhetorically asked "Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" Leopold saw a progress of ethical sensitivity from interpersonal relationships, to relationships to society as a whole, to relationships with the land, leading to a steady diminution of actions based on expediency, conquest, and self-interest. Leopold thus rejected the utilitarianism of conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt.[15]

Leopold and Olaus Murie, 1946

Early on, Leopold was assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves, and mountain lions in New Mexico. Local ranchers hated these predators because of livestock losses, but Leopold came to respect the animals. He developed an ecological ethic that replaced the earlier wilderness ethic that stressed the need for human dominance. Rethinking the importance of predators in the balance of nature resulted in the return of bears and mountain lions to New Mexico wilderness areas.[15]


He purchased eighty acres in the sand country of central Wisconsin. The once-forested region had been logged, swept by repeated fires, overgrazed by dairy cows, and left barren. There he put his theories to work in the field and eventually wrote his best-selling A Sand County Almanac (1949), finished just prior to his death. Leopold died of a heart attack while battling a wild fire on a neighbor's property.[19]

Leopold lived in a modest two-story home close to the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus with his wife and children. His children followed in his footsteps as teachers and naturalists: Aldo Starker (1913–1983) was a wildlife biologist and professor at UC Berkeley;[17] Luna B. Leopold (1915–2006) became a hydrologist and geology professor at UC Berkeley; Nina Leopold Bradley (1917–2011) was a researcher and naturalist; Aldo Carl Leopold (1919–2009) was a plant physiologist,[18] who taught at Purdue University for 25 years; and daughter Estella Leopold (b. 1927) is professor emeritus at the University of Washington, a noted botanist and conservationist. Today, Leopold's home is an official landmark of the city of Madison.

Leopold's headstone at his family plot in Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington, Iowa

In 1933, he was appointed Professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the first such professorship of wildlife management.

In 1924, he accepted transfer to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin and became an associate director.


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