Aldo Leopold

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Aldo Leopold
Born 11 January 1887(1887-01-11)
Burlington, Iowa
Died 21 April 1948 (aged 61)
Occupation author, ecologist, forester, and environmentalist
Nationality American
Subjects Conservation, land ethic, land health, ecological conscience
Notable work(s) A Sand County Almanac
Spouse(s) 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 ecologist, forester, and environmentalist. He was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation. Leopold is considered to be the father of wildlife management in the United States and was a life-long fisherman and hunter. Leopold died in 1948 from a heart attack while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm.


[edit] Life and work

Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa. He grew up in contact with the outdoors. During his youth, Leopold's family spent summers in Michigan's Les Cheneaux Islands, where today exists an Aldo Leopold Preserve on Marquette Island commemorating his love for the outdoors. Leopold attended the prestigious Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, after which he moved on to the Yale University School of Forestry. He received his Master's degree in Forestry in 1909. Leopold developed an appreciation for nature in terms of ecology, beauty and mystery, as well as a resource. Thereafter, his professional life encompassed forestry, ecology and writing.

Leopold served for 18 years in the United States Forest Service, working in the American Southwest (New Mexico and Arizona) until he was transferred in 1924 to the Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1928 he left the Forest Service and started doing independent contract work. He mostly did wildlife and game surveys throughout the U.S.

In 1933 he was appointed Professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lived in a modest two-story home close to the campus with his wife and children, and he taught at the university until his death. Today, his home is an official landmark of the city of Madison and is occupied by Elizabeth Loniello. One of his sons, Luna, went on to become a noted hydrologist and geology professor at UC Berkeley. Another son, A. Starker Leopold, was a noted wildlife biologist and also a professor at UC Berkeley.

An advocate for the preservation of wildlife and wilderness areas, Leopold became a founder of The Wilderness Society in 1935. Named in his honor, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness lies within the boundaries of the Gila National Forest, in New Mexico. Leopold was instrumental in the proposal for Gila to be managed as a wilderness area. As a result, in 1924, Gila National Forest became the first designated wilderness area by the US government. Together, the Leopold Wilderness and Gila National Forest, often are considered the starting point for the modern wilderness-conservation movement throughout the United States.

His 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. Leopold 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 writes "Theoretically, the mechanization of farming ought to cut the farmer's chains, but whether it really does is debatable." (p. 262)

[edit] A Sand County Almanac

Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac has been read by millions and has informed and changed the environmental movement and a widespread interest in ecology as a science. By the same token, the Wilderness Society and Leopold’s work in it were important precursors to the environmental movement that coalesced around the time of the first Earth Day.

Published in 1949, shortly after Leopold's death, A Sand County Almanac is a combination of natural history, scene painting with words, and philosophy. It is perhaps best known for the following quote, which defines his land ethic: "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." 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..[1]

[edit] Conservation

In "The Land Ethic", a chapter of A Sand County Almanac, Leopold delves into conservation in "The Ecological Conscience" section. He wrote: "Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." Leopold felt it was generally agreed that more conservation education was needed; however quantity and content were up for debate.

As it seemed to Leopold, curriculum-content guidelines current at the time he was writing (late 1940s) boiled down to: "obey the law, vote right, join some organizations and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest." He was critical of this "formula." To him, it appeared to serve self-interest but it did not address ethical questions.

This fact brought him to the conclusion that obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land. At the time he was writing, he believed that, without benefit of philosophy and religion, conservation had been minimized.

With the hopes of addressing ethical issues as well as educational challenges, Leopold put forward an example in the issue of Wisconsin's southwestern topsoil slipping seaward. In 1933 the public offered assistance to farmers who adopted remedial practices for five years, which was widely accepted. Once the five-year period was completed, the farmers only continued practices that offered economic gain for themselves, disregarding practices which were profitable for the community. In response, the Wisconsin Legislature passed the Soil Conservation District Law in 1937 that allowed farmers to write rules for land use themselves. Even with the additional incentives of free technical service and the availability of specialized machinery for loan, rules that would benefit the community continued to be ignored as no rules were written. A small amount of progress did occur, but not enough to address the pertinent problems.

[edit] Digitization

Currently the Digital Content Group of University of Wisconsin- Madison is conducting a large-scale digitization of Aldo Leopold's journals and records. They are expected to be made available online late 2009.[2]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

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[edit] External links

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