January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948
Aldo Leopold 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 two hours after fighting a brush fire on a neighbor’s farm.
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. 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.
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.”