Considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology and the United States’ wilderness system, Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. Among his best known ideas is the “land ethic,” which calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature.
Born in 1887 and raised in Burlington, IA, Leopold developed an interest in the natural world at an early age, spending hours observing, journaling, and sketching his surroundings. After graduating from the Yale Forest School in 1909, he eagerly pursued a career with the newly established U.S. Forest Service in Arizona and New Mexico.
By age 24, he had been promoted to the post of supervisor for the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. And in 1922, he was instrumental in developing the proposal to manage the Gila National Forest as a wilderness area. It became the country’s first official wilderness area in 1924.
Following a transfer to Madison, WI, in 1924, Leopold continued to investigate ecology and the philosophy of conservation, and in 1933 published the first textbook in the field of wildlife management. Later that year, he accepted a new chair position in game management – a first for the University of Wisconsin and the nation.
In 1935, he and his family initiated their own ecological restoration experiment on a worn-out farm along the Wisconsin River outside of Baraboo, WI. During weekends at “the Shack,” the family planted thousands of pine trees and restored prairies. Documenting the ensuing changes in the flora and fauna further informed and inspired Leopold.
A prolific author of articles for both professional journals and popular magazines, Leopold conceived of a book, geared for general audiences, which would examine humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Unfortunately, just one week after receiving word that his manuscript would be published, Leopold died of a heart attack on April 21, 1948.
A little more than a year after his death, Leopold’s collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac, was published. With more than two million copies sold, it has become one of the most respected books about the environment ever published, and Leopold has come to be regarded by many as the most influential conservation thinker of the 20th century.
Today, Leopold’s legacy continues to inform and inspire us to see the natural world “as a community to which we belong.”