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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Leopold, Aldo
(January 11, 1887–April 21, 1948 )

–forester, wildlife ecologist, and author–wa s the first of four children born to Clara E. (Starker) Leopold and Carl Adolph Leopold of Burlington, Iowa. Even as a child, Leopold showed a keen interest in the natural world. At age 11, he wrote a school composition on wrens in which he identified 39 species he had observed. His father, who had a disciplined code of sportsmanship, taught him to hunt when he was about 12. Summers, he explored Marquette Island, located at the north end of Lake Huron, where the family vacationed at Les Cheneaux Club for six weeks each year. There the Leopolds met Simon McPherson, headmaster of the Lawrenceville Preparatory School in New Jersey, where Aldo, at his mother's insistence, finished high school, graduating in 1905. Having decided in his early teens that he would be a forester, he attended Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University and then went on to Yale School of Forestry for graduate studies. Upon receiving his master's degree in 1909, he joined the U.S. Forest Service.

    Leopold began his Forest Service career as a ranger at the Apache National Forest in what was then Arizona Territory and quickly advanced up the ranks to chief of operations for the Southwestern Region (District 3). In 1912 he married Estella Bergere, the daughter of a prominent New Mexico family. During his years in the Southwest (1909-1924), Leopold's ideas about scientific forestry and game management shifted toward game protection and wilderness preservation as he observed the interdependence of wildlife and wild lands. In 1924, shortly before he transferred to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, he convinced the Forest Service to designate as wilderness 500,000 acres of New Mexico's Gila National Forest, the first officially designated wilderness area in the U.S. Forest Service.

    Between 1924 and 1928, while he was assistant director of the Forest Products Laboratory, Leopold began to attract a wider audience for his essays advocating wilderness preservation and wildlife ecology. Increas ingly dissatisfied with laboratory work, he left the Forest Service in 1928 to undertake a challenging, multistate game survey for the Sporting Arms and Ammunitions Manufacturers' Institute. For the next three years he gathered information about anything related to game management (protective legislation, farming practices, hunting practices, and so forth) in nine states, including Iowa. His 1931 Report on a Game Survey of the North Central States provided solid data for him to formulate a theory of integrated game management. During 1931-1933, he wrote Game Management (1933) while he worked on a series of consulting projects, including an update of his 1928 Iowa game survey for the Iowa Fish and Game Commission, the results of which contributed to the Iowa Twenty-five Year Conservation Plan (1933).

    In 1933 Leopold was appointed to a new position created specifically for him: professor of game management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He joined other leading conservationists in 1935 to form the Wilderness Society. That same year, he purchased a run-down farm on the Wisconsin River near Baraboo and began a long-term ecological restoration project. The entire family contributed to the effort, rebuilding a chicken coop into a cabin, known as The Shack, and spending countless weekends planting trees and restoring prairie areas. The farm gave him time to observe and think about the complex relationships between land and humans, and led to his last and most influential work, A Sand County Almanac (1949), which set forth the concept of a "land ethic" that became synonymous with his name. Unfortunately, Leopold did not live to witness the full power of his ideas. He died in 1948 of a heart attack while helping to fight a wildfire that threatened the farm he loved.

    Leopold's legacy is beyond measure. His name has been immortalized in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, a portion (202,016 acres) of the original wilderness area of the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. In 1982 the Leopolds' five children–Starker, Luna, Nina, Carl, and Estella–established the Aldo Leopold Foundation (Baraboo, Wisconsin) to manage the Leopold farm, including The Shack, and Leopold's literary estate. In 1993 the U.S. Forest Service established the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute at the University of Montana.
Sources Leopold was a prolific writer of essays, most of which are available in edited collections. His papers, collected writings, and related materials are located in the University of Wisconsin Archives and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Archives, both in Madison; related U.S. Forest Service records are located in the National Archives and the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters, both in Washington, D.C., and the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona. Among the many books about him, the definitive biography is Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (1988).
Contributor: Rebecca Conard

Cite as: Conard, Rebecca. "Leopold, Aldo" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 November 2018