Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold
Today's Naturalist is a little more contemporary, at least when compared to those people who have been featured previously. His name is Aldo Leopold, and he is best known for his contributions to Ecology, Environmental Science, and Conservation. He also wrote the influential Environmental book, The Sand County Almanac.

Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Iowa in 1887, and he spent a great deal of his childhood outdoors. He did a great deal of hiking, climbing, and hunting, and would spend hours observing, drawing, and writing about the nature around him. It was then only natural that he attended the Yale Forest School, which he graduated from in 1909.

After completing his education, Leopold entered the United States Forest Service in New Mexico and Arizona. In 1922 he created the Forest Service's very first fish and game handbook, and established Gila National Forest as the first designated Wilderness Area in 1924.

It was during his time in the Southwest that Leopold developed many of his ideas regarding preservation and wildlife management. A popular mindset of the time was to keep animals on private preserves for the sole purpose of having something to hunt for sport. Leopold saw things differently. He felt that wilderness areas should exist to maintain healthy, biologically diverse natural communities.

In 1924 Leopold transferred to Madison, Wisconsin, where he continued his work in Ecology and Conservation Philosophy. He published Game Management in 1933, which outlined the techniques needed to manage and restore wildlife areas. Shortly after that book was published, Leopold was offered the chair of an all new department at the University of Wisconsin - the Department of Game Management.

It was around this time that Leopold and his family purchased a run-down track of land near Baraboo, Wisconsin. This 80 acre plot had been damaged by overgrazing, logging, and wildfires, and was far from fertile and healthy. It was at this location that Leopold put many of his ideas into practice, attempting to restore the wilderness around him and documenting all the changes. His work and observations here inspired his most famous work, The Sand County Almanac.

Unfortunately, Leopold never saw the success of his greatest piece of nature writing. Only a week after he got the publisher's acceptance, he died of a heart attack at the age of 61 while helping to fight a wildfire on a neighbor's property. The book would be released a year later, in 1949, and would go on to sell over 2 million copies. It is considered one of the most significant environmental works ever written.

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