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Senior Fellow Profile: Curt Meine

Curt Meine

Name:  Curt Meine

Job Title:  Senior Fellow

What does your position entail? As a Senior Fellow with the Foundation, I’m able to continue the kind of writing, speaking, teaching, and other outreach activities that I have been involved in ever since publishing my biography of Aldo Leopold back in 1988.  Although I have moved on to work on a wide range of projects as a conservation biologist, writer, and historian, I am never far removed from my professional roots as a Leopold scholar.  Within the Leopold Foundation, I serve as a kind of all-purpose advisor and resource, providing the staff here with historical background, assisting them with current ALF programs, and contributing to the discussion about future needs and challenges.  I also have many opportunities to represent ALF in our partnerships with other organizations.

Where are you originally from? My home town is New Castle, Pennsylvania, a small city north of Pittsburg.  My family moved a lot as I was growing up, and eventually we ended up in the Chicago area.  But because we had (and still have) a cabin in the northwoods, I came to know Wisconsin well even before coming here for graduate school.

What is your educational and professional background? As an undergraduate at DePaul University in Chicago, I majored in English and History.  I was attracted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison by its interdisciplinary graduate programs in what is now the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.  I earned my Master’s and Ph.D. in the Institute’s Land Resources program.  My doctoral dissertation was a biography of Aldo Leopold, published as Aldo Leopold:  His Life and Work (University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).

Following graduate school, I put in a couple years in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, working on a series of reports on biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture, and international development.  That experience led to continuing opportunities for me to work on conservation projects and programs with a wide variety of scientific organizations, conservation groups, and agencies here at home and overseas.   My academic background in working on Leopold and the history of conservation proved to be very useful in sorting through the complexities of contemporary conservation challenges.

I returned to Wisconsin to work with the International Crane Foundation, just a few miles down the road from the Leopold Foundation near Baraboo.  These two organizations have a long history of cooperative work, and together with many other local organizations make this area an unusually rich place for conservation activity.  I also teach and advise students from time to time, and am an adjunct faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What brought you to conservation work? Like most conservationists, I came to my work in part through my own intense experiences in the outdoors while growing up.  I was also a young kid on the first Earth Day, and so grew up as our awareness of environmental challenges was rapidly growing.  Later on, as I went on to college and then graduate school, I found my academic interests leading in the same direction.  I became especially interested in the development of conservation philosophy, science, and policy—which is how I came to be interested in Aldo Leopold’s life and work.

How long have you been affiliated with ALF? I first began to interact with the Leopold family when I began my graduate studies in the early 1980s.  While I was working on my degree, I was a Leopold Fellow under the fellowship program then administered by the Sand County Foundation.  Although I was not formally an ALF employee, I remained in close touch with the Foundation and have been pleased to see it grow into a thriving non-profit organization.

What is your favorite part of your job? I find it especially exciting these days to see how the Leopold legacy—not just Aldo’s, but the legacy of the entire family—continues to grow and expand in new ways, in response to new conservation challenges and constituencies.   I enjoy seeing how the special history that Leopold represents remains not only relevant, but becomes even more valuable as we seek to build the land ethic in this new century.

What is the biggest challenge? Just keeping up!  It was my good fortune to have studied Aldo Leopold’s life and contributions.  As his legacy continues to generate new interest, opportunities, and demands, my own work has taken me in unexpected directions.  I wish I could follow every interesting pathway!  Fortunately, other conservation scholars and practitioners have come along to explore Leopold’s work in their own way, and the ALF staff does a great job of connecting people to the Leopold legacy in new, exciting, and expanding ways.

How has working for ALF changed your thinking? Over my years of working from the Leopold tradition, my thinking has no doubt changed.  (In 2004 I published a book called Correction Lines:  Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation in which I actually asked that question of myself.)   But I think it’s more accurate to say that my thinking it has been enriched.  Through my connection with Leopold and ALF, I have had unique opportunities to expand my knowledge of conservation in practice, and to work with so many creative, thoughtful, effective, and dedicated people—whether they be world-renowned scientists or dedicated local citizens or perceptive writers and thinkers.  Leopold has opened those doors.

What is your favorite Leopold quote/essay? Oh, boy.…  I always find this an impossible question to answer!  The one I especially like lately is the line from “The Land Ethic” in which Leopold states that “Nothing so important as an ethic is ever written….  It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.”  I appreciate that statement because, with it, Leopold avoids proclaiming a land ethic and instead opens the doors to everyone to participate in the task of building it.  And that is what it will take; we all have a stake, and a role, in building a healthier relationship between people and land. But ask me tomorrow and I may have a different answer!