Leopold, Aldo (Paper II)

Leopold argued that using wilderness for economic gain did not attribute to progress in civilization and that remaining wilderness should be reserved for parks and outdoor life. He argued that wild country was essential to everyone's happiness and that the opportunity of finding such land was disappearing quickly.

Biographical Highlights

Known for his intimate written portrayals of environments and nature, Aldo Leopold is considered the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system. Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. He is one of the founders of the Wilderness Society and author of A Sand County Almanac, which has sold millions of copies, has generated the environmental movement and and the idea of ecology as a science. His work inspired the first Earth Day.

Historic Roots

Leopold's notion of a "land ethic" traces back to the bluffs of the Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa, where he was born in 1887 and then raised. His parents, both sportsman enthusiasts, encouraged Leopold’s interest in the natural world at an early age, by teaching him to identify the birds seen around his home. As a child, Leopold spent hours observing, journaling, and sketching his surroundings (Nash, 1982).

Leopold’s early exposure to nature, matched with skills for observation and writing, led to a forestry degree at Yale in 1908. In 1909, he qualified for a position of "Forest Assistant" in the Arizona territories with the U.S Forest Service. It was here that Leopold realized the problem of diminishing supplies of big game, fish, and waterfowl.

On October 9, 1912, Leopold married Estrella Bergere. She was filled with all the joy, mischief, music, and laughter his more serious side neglected, and became his closest companion, first adviser and editor, and the efficient and loving director of his home (Lorbiecki, 1996).

A near-fatal attack of Bright’s disease in 1913 incapacitated Leopold for over a year. When he returned to active duty, he organized hunters and fishermen of Albuquerque, New Mexico into game protective associations and became in charge of enforcing game laws, eliminating predators, and stocking streams and ranges. He received national attention through a medal of recognition form the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund and had his work commended by Theodore Roosevelt (Nash, 1982).

In 1921, Leopold wrote an article for the Journal of Forestry with the object of giving "definite form to the issue of wilderness conservation." Leopold defined wilderness as: "a continuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state, open to lawful hunting and fishing, big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip, and kept devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages, or other works of man." He argued that wild country was essential to everyone’s happiness, regardless of their status in life, and that the opportunity of finding such land was disappearing quickly.

In conclusion of his letter, Leopold proposed that an isolated portion of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico be made a permanent wilderness reserve. This idea became a reality in 1922, when Frederic Winn, the supervisor of the Gila, agreed to join Leopold in producing an inspector’s report of the range conditions and map out the proposed reserve area. Local sportsmen’s associations stood behind the proposal, and on June 3, 1924, 574,000 acres were designated primarily to wilderness recreation (Meine, 1988).

During the same year, Leopold transferred to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison where he served as associate director, and five years later, began teaching at the University of Wisconsin in 1928. His main goal through this time period was to convince people that using wilderness for economic gain did not attribute to progress in civilization and that remaining wilderness should be reserved for parks and outdoor life. Leopold was quoted throughout two pages of a report on a study of the recreational resources of federal lands, sponsored by the National Conference on Outdoor Recreation. This inspired the Service’s recreation specialist, L.F. Kneipp to issue the "L-20" regulations establishing an official policy of preservation in the National Forests one year later (Nash, 1982).

Leopold's cornerstone book, Game Management, came out in 1933. It illustrated the skills and techniques required for managing and restoring wildlife populations. This book initiated a new science that intertwined forestry, agriculture, biology, zoology, ecology, education and communication. Soon after it was published, the University of Wisconsin created a new department, the Department of Game Management, and appointed Leopold as its first chair (Lorbiecki, 1996).

In 1934, Leopold’s writings inspired a small group of conservationists, angered by the land destruction and excessive development occurring daily, "to organize an aggressive society for the preservation of wilderness." Robert Marshall, Benton MacKaye, Harvey Broome, and Bernard Frank invited four carefully selected individuals to join them, including Leopold, who topped the list. Marshall gave him the title of "the Commanding General of the Wilderness Battle." In 1935, these members founded The Wilderness Society.

That same year, Leopold bought a worn-out farm along the Wisconsin River outside of Baraboo, Wisconsin, for him and his family, to initiate their own ecological restoration experiment. Initially buying what they called "the Shack" as a place for his family to spend time together and rebuild during weekends, he was instilled with values and a common ethic of care for the land as he restored those abused acres and really found his voice as a prolific writer (The Greatest Good, 2005).

After his fifty-third birthday, in 1937, Leopold became more focused on communicating to the general public about his conservation message. Over a twelve-year period, Leopold wrote and re-wrote essays that informed people of how nature worked, and influenced them to actively take part in ensuring the future health of the land and water that sustains plant, animal, and human life.

Along with authoring articles for professional journals and popular magazines, Leopold began writing a book about exploring humanity’s relationship with nature and treating the land with love and respect. Unfortunately, on April 21, 1948, only one week after Leopold received word that his book be published, Leopold died from a heart attack he experienced while trying to stop a neighbor’s escaped grass fire (Aldo Leopold Foundation Web site).

This tragedy, however, did not interfere with the publishing of Leopold’s written work. Leopold’s son, Luna lead a group of Leopold’s family and colleagues in the final editing of the book, and in 1949, one year after Leopold’s death, A Sand County Almanac was published. Selling over two million copies and translated into nine languages, it is thought to be one of the most respected books about the environment ever published and has credited Leopold as the most influential conservation thinker of the twentieth century. Through Leopold’s legacy, people continue to be educated and inspired to view the natural environment "as a community to which we belong."


Leopold has left a powerful legacy. Today, the Shack and the surrounding preserve remain in great health, with forests and restored prairie still maturing. A Sand County Almanac encourages Americans of new generations to save the best of what's left of the natural world. Leopold is remembered as one of the early leaders of the American wilderness movement and is acknowledged by many Americans as the father of wildlife conservation (The Wilderness Society).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The wilderness conservation work and poised writing of Aldo Leopold has encouraged people living today to create nonprofit organizations in his name and revolving around the care and future health of the environment.

In response to the growing interest in their father’s legacy in 1982, Leopold’s children, Starker, Luna, Nina, Carl, and Estella, all respected conservationists themselves, established the Aldo Leopold Foundation. The Foundation has promoted the care of natural resources and fostered an ethical relationship between people and land for over 20 years. Thousands of visitors each year are inspired by the Foundation’s tours, seminars, and workshops in the same landscape that profoundly moved Leopold (The Aldo Leopold Foundation).

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).

Key Related Ideas

During the 1960’s, when America was infiltrated with catch phrases like, "Reduce/reuse/recycle/restore/rethink," (Global Business Network) the United States also experienced the rise of the environmental movement. At this time, Leopold was one of the earlier thinkers noted for his ethical ideas and convictions he formulated in the 1949 publication of A Sand County Almanac. By the first Earth Day in 1970, the book was considered as the environmental movement’s "new testament," because it introduced overlapping ideas about ecology, natural history, natural resource sciences, and ethics. These were combined with Leopold’s personal experiences and observations, and were transformed into an expression of a philosophy about the conservation and preservation a new "land ethic." (Nash, 1989).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Arthur Carhart (1892-1978): known for his land evaluation and recreation plan for what is known today as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Carhart published some twenty-four books and over 4,000 articles during his career. They ranged from Western novels to books on sport and conservation. He is the author of Hunting North American Deer (1946), Fresh Water Fishing (1949) and Fishing in the West (1950).
  • Benton MacKaye (1879-1975): a conservationist, planner, and forester, and one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, envisioned the Appalachian Trail, as a path where people could go to renew themselves. Today, it is a 2,174-mile footpath along the ridge-crests and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains and passes through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
  • Robert Marshall (1901-1939): the principal founder of the Wilderness Society, who shaped the U.S. Forest Service's policy on wilderness designation and management, was among the first to suggest the large tracts of Alaska be preserved, and wrote passionately on the themes of conservation and preservation.
  • Steven T. Mather (1867-1930): laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved, unimpaired for future generations. His preservation ethic covered the issues of locations of park developments, provision of vistas along roadways, and the perpetuation of the natural scene. His grasp of park development encouraged the rise of "nature study," and other park services.
  • John Muir (1838-): a Scottish-American environmentalist, naturalist, explorer, writer, inventor, engineer and geologist, best remembered for his concern with the toursit over-exploitation of Yosemite area's natural wonders, and his conservation of what is now the Yosemite National Park.  In 1892, he and a handful of other concerned citizens founded the Sierra Club, an organization devoted to preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Muir served as the president of the Sierra Club for 22 years.

Related Nonprofits

  • The Aldo Leopold Foundation has promoted the care of natural resources and fostered an ethical relationship between people and land since its establishment in 1982. The Foundation's goal is to share the legacy of Aldo Leopold and to awaken an ecological conscience in the people of our nation (https://www.aldoleopold.org/).
  • The Aldo Leopold Nature Center provides structured, hands-on nature education year round to students of all ages. ALNC programs include seasonal public programs, special events, school field trip experiences, in-class programs, teacher training, activities for special interest groups, and land restoration activities. ALNC runs these programs on 20 acres leased to by the City of Monona, Wisconsin. This land is made up of various habitats for study and comparison: oak woods, prairie, field, wetlands and pond (https://naturenet.org/alnc/index.html).
  • The Leopold Education Project is an organization that provides innovative, interdisciplinary, critical thinking, conservation and environmental education curriculum based on the classic writings of Leopold. LEP teaches the public about humanity's ties to the natural environment in the effort to conserve and protect the earth's natural resources. LEP has been rated as a 4-Star Charity by Charity Navigator, a premiere independent evaluator of charities (https://www.aldoleopold.org/teach-learn/leopold-education-project/).
  • The Wilderness Society uses scientific expertise, analysis and bold advocacy to save, protect and restore America's wilderness areas and deliver an unspoiled legacy of wild places to future generations. The Society primary focuses on the conservation of biological diversity; clean air and water; towering forests, rushing rivers, and sage-sweet, silent deserts (https://www.wilderness.org/).

Related Websites

The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, at 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 GoodDir. Steven Dunsky and David Steinke. Forest Service Centennial, 2005.

The Wilderness Society. Homepage. Accessed 9th December 2005. https://www.wilderness.org/index.cfm.

Global Business Network. Peter Warshall. Accessed 12th December 2005. http://www.gbn.com/ArticleDisplayServlet.srv?aid=1125