Leopold, Aldo (Paper I)

Leopold worked for the U.S. Forest Service much of his life and well known for his collection of essays, which defined a new relationship between people and nature. The organization he co-founded, The Wilderness Society, works to protect wild places and was influential in Congress's creation of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Biographical Highlights

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is thought of by many as the father of wildlife management and of the United States wilderness preservation system. A graduate of the Yale Forest School in 1909, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service much of his life. He submitted the first successful proposal to the federal government for the establishment of a national forest as a wilderness area in 1924. He later became the chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Wisconsin.

Leopold was not only a forester, and a conservationist, but he was also a philosopher, and a writer. Leopold is most well known for his collection of essays A Sand County Almanac published in 1949, shortly after his death. In the essays, he developed the idea of ‘Land Ethic’, which defined a new relationship between people and nature.

Historic Roots

Aldo Leopold was born in 1887, in Burlington Iowa. He spent much of his early years outdoors, often hunting with his father. His family spent summers in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in the Les Cheneux Islands, where he spent time hunting, fishing and exploring (Tanner 1987). He was a promising student, and attended Lawrenceville Preparatory School in New Jersey. He then graduated from the Yale Forest School in 1909. The school was established by an endowment from the family of Gifford Pinchot, the nation's leading forester. After Leopold graduated from Yale he went to work for Pinchot in the United States Forest Service (Tanner 1987). Most is his early time in the Forest Service was spent in the Southwest.

Through his work with the U.S. Forest Service, he became involved in wildlife conservation, and developed a new emphasis on cooperative game management that became the model for Forest Service activity around the nation. (Tanner 1987). In 1923, Leopold proposed that wilderness status be given to a large piece of land surrounding the Gila River in the Gila National Forrest. The status was granted in 1924, marking the beginning of the National Forest Wilderness System in the United States.

Leopold married, Estella Bergere, whom he had met while working for the Forest Service in New Mexico, in 1912. The two had their first child, Starker in 1913, and had four more children over the next fourteen years, Luna, Nina, Carl and Estella. In 1924, Leopold and his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and he continued to work for the Forest Service. In 1933, He accepted a position as the chair of game management in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Wisconsin, and also published his first textbook in the field of Wildlife Management (Aldo Leopold Foundation).

In 1935, Leopold, while working for the University of Wisconsin, bought 80 acres of abandoned, overused farmland as an ecological restoration project. The land located along the Wisconsin River, outside of Baraboo Wisconsin, became his and his family’s own ecological restoration experiment (Aldo Leopold Foundation). His family was surprised at the landscape of the land when Leopold first proposed the project. While they expected Aldo had purchased a vine covered cottage where they could spend quiet weekends in the country, they found he had purchased property with a devastated landscape, including a run down chicken coop, that he had purchased for $8 an acre (Leopold 2004). The family spent the next several years planting wild grasses, flowers, and thousands of pine trees on the land that today is completely restored.

In 1939, Leopold became the chair of the new Department of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin. He spent much of the later years of his life working on his farm and spending time at the Shack, as the family affectionately called the reconstructed chicken coop. He began to write several essays to be compiled into a volume on ecological issues, and management. Leopold died in 1948. He had a heart attack while helping to fight a grass fire on a neighbor's farm near the Shack. A year later his essays, compiled into an addition titled A Sand County Almanac, was published with the final editing overseen by Leopold's daughter, Luna.


Aldo Leopold's accomplishments began while he was working for the United States Forest Service. In 1923, Leopold proposed that wilderness status be given to a large piece of land surrounding the Gila River in the Gila National Forrest. In 1924, about 700,000 acres of wilderness were approved to be designated as the Gila Wilderness. This was the first time a federal land management agency designated a large piece of land as wilderness recreational space, and it is argued to be the moment of creation for a National Forest Wilderness System (Tanner 1987). Leopold was the leading proponent for this first designation and throughout the 1920s, his was the most active and influential voice for wilderness preservation (Tanner 1987).

Leopold's views on land and wildlife management were revolutionary in his time and through a series of essays and speeches, he advocated a new view of land management. He viewed the objective of land management as preserving or restoring the capacity of the system for sustained functioning and self-renewal. He did this through encouraging the greatest possible diversity and structural complexity and minimizing the violence of man-made changes on the land (Tanner, 19). Leopold advocated that land management was as much a product of the heart as of the mind (Tanner 1987).

Leopold's most notable work was the series of essays compiled in A Sand County Almanac. Through writing the essays in A Sand County Almanac, Leopold became increasingly focused on reaching the general public with his conservation message. He worked for over twelve years to write the essays compiled in A Sand County Almanac to inform people of how the natural world worked, and to inspire people to take action (Aldo Leopold Foundation).

One of the most important ideas in the essays was Leopold's notion of 'land ethic'. The essays were an attempt to stimulate a perception about the land that would lead people to a transformation of values required to have 'land ethic' (Tanner 1987). Leopold wanted to persuade people to have an ecological understanding about the land and grow to love and respect it. Leopold's 'land ethic' represented an extension of his values, his sense of right and wrong to include the entire land community (Tanner 1987).

In his essay Land Ethic Leopold writes, “. . . Ethics rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of independent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include. .the land“ (Leopold 2001). Leopold's writings have inspired environmentalists and conservationists throughout America since their publication.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

One way in which Leopold was tied to the philanthropic sector was through advocating to government the importance of taking action to preserve wilderness in the United States. In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, creating a National Wilderness Preservation System. More than nine million acres were set aside including Leopold's Gila National Forest. A 200,000-acre parcel near Gila is named after Leopold. By 1987, 90 million acres had been set aside for wilderness preservation (Tanner 1987).

Leopold was a co-founder of the Wilderness Society in 1935. Aldo Leopold’s ground-breaking work on an ethical treatment of the land is still valued today by the Wilderness Society.  Through programs that protect the last great American the Arctic Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling, staving off logging and road building on 58 million acres of roadless lands, curbing the abuse of lands by off-road vehicle users, and protecting America's wild places in Alaska and the lower 48 states from uncontrolled oil development, the Wilderness Society proves to be dedicated to the concept that careful, credible science, bold advocacy, and unswerving vision are essential to conservation policy (The Wilderness Society).

Related Websites

  • The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute http://leopold.wilderness.net/, is a Federal research group located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, dedicated to the development and dissemination of knowledge needed to improve management of wilderness, parks, and similarly protected areas. The Institute provides searchable databases of Leopold Institute publications and projects.

  • The Gila National Forest Web site, at http.//www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila/, provides information on the sixth largest National Forest in the United States, fire and aviation, current conditions, maps and brochures, passes and permits, projects and plans, recreational activities, publications, and volunteer opportunities. 

  • The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, at https://environment.yale.edu/,   publishes selected wilderness and environment related work by faculty, students, and outside colleagues each year. All books, bulletins, working papers, and reports published in the series since 1995 are available as downloadable chapter PDFs at no charge.  Online environmental publications and resources are also available.



Lorbiecki, Marybeth. Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire. Oxford University Press, 1996.


Meine, Curt. Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.


Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind.  Yale University Press, 1982. 


The Greatest Good. Dir. Steven Dunsky and David Steinke. Forest Service Centennial, 2005.


The Wilderness Society.  Homepage. https://www.wilderness.org/index.cfm .


Global Business Network.  Peter Warshall.   http://www.gbn.com/ArticleDisplayServlet.srv?aid=1125.