Like those of so many great leaders, Aldo Leopold’s vision and actions were in part shaped and supported by his family life. Of particular importance were his wife, Estella, and their 5 children: Starker, Luna, Nina, Carl, and Estella. However, in the decades since his untimely passing in 1948, Aldo’s extended family would continue his legacy with their work through the Aldo Leopold Foundation, with some of their efforts continuing even today.
Aldo met his wife Estella, then a schoolteacher, while working for the U.S. Forest Service in the American Southwest. A member of a prominent family in her community of Albuquerque, Estella’s father was a concert pianist and her mother was a descendant of a Spanish land grant family that included the Duke of Albuquerque. Following a long-distance courtship, the couple was married in 1912. They would go on to have their first four children between 1913 and 1919. Their youngest daughter would be born after the family’s move to Wisconsin in 1924.
On top of being a mother and teacher, Estella enjoyed a very active lifestyle, which not surprisingly included a love of the outdoors. She was crowned the Wisconsin woman archery champion 5 years in a row during the 1930s and earned a fourth-place finish in the national competition held in Chicago. At home, she shared her love of classical Spanish music with her family, teaching them Spanish and Cuban folk songs that Leopold family descendants still sing together today. In 1973, Mrs. Leopold received an honorary doctor of science degree from Northland College. After a long, incredible life, Estella passed away in 1975 at the age of 84 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Estella’s stepsister, Nina Otero-Warren, gained notoriety as a suffragist and the first Latina to run for Congress. In recognition of her legacy in education, public health, and activism, Nina was featured on the US Quarter, making her the first Hispanic American to earn a place on United States currency. The “Otero quarter” began circulating in 2022.
A wildlife biologist with a particular interest in birds, Aldo Starker Leopold was well-respected for his contributions to the fields of wildlife conservation, education, and public policy. The oldest of the Leopold children, Starker was also a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for more than 30 years.
Starker studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his father’s alma mater, the Yale Forestry School, before transferring to Berkeley to complete his Ph. D in Zoology. He authored more than 100 scientific papers and five books during his career in the fields of ornithology, conservation, and wildlife management. In 1963, he published the Leopold Report (officially, Recommendations for Wildlife Management in U.S. National Parks), the first plan for managing the parks’ visitors and ecology together.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and received many other awards including the Department of Interior Conservation Award, the Aldo Leopold Medal of The Wildlife Society, the Audubon Society Medal, the Browning Medal of the Smithsonian Institution, the Fellows Medal of the California Academy of Sciences, and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Starker died in August 1983 at the age of 70, at his home in Berkeley, CA.
Luna combined his training and expertise in engineering, meteorology, geology, and hydrology to help develop the field of fluvial geomorphology – the study of how rivers are shaped by their surrounding landscapes. His robust career was sparked by his love of water, something he discovered as a teenager while working in Coon Valley, Wisconsin on the nation’s first large-scale watershed conservation project.
An accomplished academic, Luna earned an undergraduate engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master's degree in physics and meteorology from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard. After serving in the United States Air Force during WWII, Luna worked for the Soil Conservation Service and U.S. Geological Survey, eventually becoming the first Chief Hydrologist of the USGS. He would then join his brother and the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley as a professor in 1972 and retiring in 1986. In all, he authored some 200 articles and books, many of which remain widely used in teaching and fieldwork today. He also oversaw the publication of the widely beloved A Sand County Almanac following his father’s death.
His achievements were recognized during his lifetime with many prestigious awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science, and the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science, posthumously, in 2006.
He died in February 2006 at the age of 90, at his home in Berkeley, CA.
Nina is remembered as a scientist, conservationist, philosopher, and humanitarian by an international community of colleagues.
Nina was deeply connected to the Leopold Shack and Farm throughout her life, but particularly through time spent there in her childhood. She was senior author of a 1999 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed decades of phenological records that she and her family kept on the property. The findings suggested how climate change was affecting the region and its native ecosystems and have been cited over 700 times.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nina worked as an assistant on the University of Chicago’s Tribolium project. She and her second husband Charles Bradley also built the Bradley Study Center on the Leopold Reserve (now known as the Leopold-Pines Conservation Area) in 1976. It became a hub of ecological research conducted in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin.
The work of Nina and Charles was also instrumental in establishing the Aldo Leopold Foundation itself, including the Leopold Fellows programs that are still in place today. For more than three decades, Nina served as the primary advocate for her father's ideas about conservation. She died at age 93 in May 2011, at her home near the Leopold Shack and Farm. She was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame after her death.
Aldo Carl Leopold was a well-known plant physiologist whose 1964 book, Plant Growth and Development, became a classic textbook. He was also a prominent and eloquent spokesman for his father’s philosophy of a land ethic, incorporating it into his own writings, lectures, and work at the Tropical Forestry Initiative and the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
Carl earned his bachelors degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1941, after which he served in the United States Marine Corps during WWII. Following his discharge, he attended Harvard University where he would complete both a masters degree and Ph.D in plant physiology. He went on to join the faculty at Purdue University, the University of Nebraska, and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.
A holder of multiple patents, Carl published some 200 scientific papers and five books on plant physiology. He was elected president of the American Society of Plant Physiologists in 1996, and awarded an honorary Doctorate of Agriculture from Purdue University. He also received two awards from the Royal Galician Academy of Science in Spain. Carl took hundreds of photographs with his father’s camera during the family’s years at the Shack, compiling a rich collection now known as the Leopold Archives that visitors still enjoy today.
Carl passed away at the age of 89 in November 2009, at his home in Ithaca, NY.
Estella Leopold is a University of Washington professor emeritus of botany, forest resources, and quaternary research. She has been teaching and conducting research for more than 60 years.
As the only one of five Leopold children to be born in Wisconsin, Estella earned her bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She continued her botany studies by obtaining a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from Yale University.
The author of more than 100 scientific publications in the fields of paleobotany, forest history, restoration ecology, and environmental quality, Estella pioneered the use of fossilized pollen and spores to understand how plants and ecosystems respond over eons to climate change and other phenomena. Her work at the Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado made the case for their preservation, an achievement which led to Estella’s receipt of the prestigious International Cosmos Prize in 2010. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974.
Estella serves on the board of the Aldo Leopold Foundation as a lifetime director. She lives in Seattle, WA.
The Aldo Leopold Foundation was founded in 1982 with a mission to foster the land ethic through the legacy of Aldo Leopold, awakening an ecological conscience in people throughout the world.