Buddy Huffaker and his wife Marcy show off their prairie plan in 1996.

Featured Article | Summer 2018: Ecological Restoration

Rebuilding What Has Been Lost

By Buddy Huffaker

“On this sand farm in Wisconsin, first worn out and then abandoned by our bigger-and-better society, we try to rebuild, with shovel and axe, what we are losing elsewhere. It is here that we seek – and still find – our meat from God.” – Aldo Leopold, “Foreword,” A Sand County Almanac

Like Leopold himself, the opportunity to take care of land is what brought me to this “sand farm.” I had been conducting botanical surveys across the Midwest for various organizations and agencies. However, what I was really looking for was an opportunity to practice ecological restoration, to take care of land, to make places healthier. It was pure luck my first opportunity was as a fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation. I was hired to take care of one of the places where ecological restoration began.

The Leopold Legacy

Aldo Leopold has made so many invaluable contributions to conservation that a whole book, The Essential Aldo Leopold, is dedicated to documenting the myriad of fields he advanced. Of all his many contributions, I believe his role in launching the field of ecological restoration is one of the most important. Much of conservation, historically and currently, is focused on restraint and limiting humanity’s negative impact on the Earth. While restraint is important,  it is ecological restoration that can be a powerful motivator and means as it emphasizes how we can maximize humanity’s ability to help and heal places, and indeed people, too.

When the Leopold family began planting pines and prairie on their sand farm, they were healing the land. As Aldo’s daughter Nina often remarked, they were also healing themselves. As they watched the Dustbowl turn the sky black and leave people and communities broken, they planted pine trees. A decade later as they watched their sons and brothers sent off to World War II, they planted pine trees.

Nina Leopold planting a pine tree near the Shack.

Nina Leopold planting a pine tree near the Shack.

Wallace Stegner once wrote “the land ethic is not a fact but a task.” Leopold understood keenly that signatures on the land differ “whether written with axe or with pen.” So, at exactly the same time he was teaching students and writing compelling essays about why nature should be protected, loved, and respected, he and his family were using the best knowledge, tools, and techniques they had for the task of “rebuilding what was being lost elsewhere” on their own family farm.

Restoration progress at Tarboo Creek

Restoration in progress at Tarboo Creek. Strategically placed logs help redirect the creek and tree tubes protect the young plantings. Photo courtesy of Scott Freeman and Susan Leopold Bradley.

This issue explores the theme of ecological restoration and how important taking care of places is to Leopold’s land ethic. We lead off with an excerpt from Scott Freeman’s excellent new book, Saving Tarboo Creek, which illuminates this passion for restoration is a family tradition. Scott and his family, including his wife Susan, who is Aldo Leopold’s granddaughter, have been restoring a property in the Pacific Northwest. They have worked through deciding why they wanted, or needed, to take on such a project, what kinds of trees to plant, and finally working through failures and successes in their effort to heal the property.

Also In This Issue

Next Curt Meine, a Leopold Scholar and Senior Fellow at the Leopold Foundation, helps us step back and think deeply about the scientific, historical, and philosophical roots of ecological restoration in “Ecological Restoration in Times of Rapid Change.” As the context for conservation changes it is important to rethink and recalibrate how we intervene positively on behalf of nature. This meaningful transition from Curt’s piece to Steve Swenson’s article “Doing What Leopold Did” further describes the continuity of stewardship and restoration efforts of “rebuilding what we are losing elsewhere” on Leopold land.

The Leopold Atlas, written by Stan Temple, also a Senior Fellow at the foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, outlines another place, Faville Grove, which informed and shaped Leopold’s understanding of the land and the importance of having people connected to and taking care of land. A research and restoration site for Leopold starting in the 1930’s, it is still being managed and restored by the Madison Audubon Society. The Backyard Almanac, penned by Cassie Mordini, the foundation’s Communications and Marketing Coordinator, gives an introduction to an important management and restoration tool across the much of North America – prescribed fire.

This issue also included an Annual Report insert with updates on our some of our programming, in particular, our $5,000,000 fundraising goal for the Future Leaders Campaign. What a privilege and pleasure to recognize so many of you that have made it possible for the Aldo Leopold Foundation to continue advancing and building a land ethic!


Feature photo, top, of Buddy and his wife, Marcy, showing off their prairie planting plan during Buddy’s early days with the Foundation in 1996.


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