Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is considered the father of wildlife ecology and a true Wisconsin hero. He was a renowned scientist and scholar, exceptional teacher, philosopher, and gifted writer. It is for his book, A Sand County Almanac, that Leopold is best known by millions of people around the globe. The Almanac, often acclaimed as the century’s literary landmark in conservation, melds exceptional poetic prose with keen observations of the natural world. The Almanac reflects an evolution of a lifetime of love, observation, and thought. It led to a philosophy that has guided many to discovering what it means to live in harmony with the land and with one another.
The roots of Leopold’s concept of a “land ethic” can be traced to his birthplace on the bluffs of the Mississippi River near Burlington, Iowa. As a youngster, he developed a zealous appreciation and interest in the natural world, spending countless hours on adventures in the woods, prairies, and river backwaters of a then relatively wild Iowa. This early attachment to the natural world, coupled with an uncommon skill for both observation and writing, lead him to pursue a degree in forestry at Yale.
After Yale, Leopold joined the U.S. Forest Service and was assigned to the Arizona Territories. During his tenure, he began to see the land as a living organism and develop the concept of community. This concept became the foundation upon which he became conservation’s most influential advocate. In 1924, he accepted a transfer to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison where he served as associate director, and began teaching at the University of Wisconsin in 1928.
Often credited as the founding father of wildlife ecology, Leopold’s cornerstone book Game Management (1933) defined the fundamental skills and techniques for managing and restoring wildlife populations. This landmark work created a new science that intertwined forestry, agriculture, biology, zoology, ecology, education and communication. Soon after its publication, the University of Wisconsin created a new department, the Department of Game Management, and appointed Leopold as its first chair.
Leopold’s unique gift for communicating scientific concepts was only equal to his fervor for putting theories into practice. In 1935, the Leopold family purchased a worn-out farm near Baraboo, in an area known as the sand counties. It is here Leopold put into action his beliefs that the same tools people used to disrupt the landscape could also be used to rebuild it. An old chicken coop, fondly known as the Shack, served as a haven and land laboratory for the Leopold family, friends, and graduate students. And it was here Leopold visualized many of the essays of what was to become his most influential work, A Sand County Almanac.