Aldo Leopold – Extended Cut

Aldo Leopold

Prior to this formal introduction, some accounts suggest that Charles and Libby might have already met Aldo Leopold once or twice in passing. Either while Leopold was in Missouri doing field work, advising Syd Stephens and the Commission or visiting his son, Starker, who lived in a house on the same piece of property as the Schwartz’s.

The encounter in Wisconsin was different, however, for it gave Charles and Libby a chance to get to know Leopold better in a relaxed setting (The Shack, for conservation aficionados), share ideas and begin a personal friendship. For Leopold, it was an opportunity to gauge the potential of this capable young couple – not quite yet a rising force in the conservation and environmental movements.

Leopold obviously come away with a favorable impression, for he would subsequently make a sage recommendation on their behalf which would not only give Charles and Libby’s career a major boost, it would greatly enrich their lives and allow them to become principles in the fascinating backstory for one of the most popular federal duck stamps of all time.

I have written about Aldo Leopold many times before and regular visitors to this website and blog are no doubt already familiar with his influence on modern game management and the role he played in making the first federal duck stamp a reality (see Figure 1). As it regards this current story on Missouri’s Audubon, it is fair to wonder how very different it would be without him or, for that matter, how different our hobby would be… would we even have one?



Figure 1. Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act into law on March 16, 1934.



Marybeth Lorbiecki, the author of his (highly recommended) biography, A Fierce Green Fire, takes this question further: “What would the American landscape [and, by extension, our quality of life] look like if he did not come along when he did? In her stimulating book, Lorbiecki states: “His discoveries and policy recommendations drove forward the emerging fields of forestry, soil conservation, wildlife study and management, ecology, wilderness protection, land restoration, and environmental ethics.”

There is much to unpackage in Lorbiecki’s statement, as Leopold’s philosophy on the land was the end product of a uniquely personal journey that began with several strong family influences and included a first-rate education, much practical trial and error, some life-changing experiences and, ultimately, deep personal introspection.

So, in order to expand our frame of reference and provide beneficial context not just for this story – but also for most everything to be found on this website – let us take a closer look at a man whose dream was to learn how to live on the land without spoiling it…


Aldo’s Early Years and Influences

Aldo Leopold was born on January 11, 1887, in Burlington, Iowa. His father, Carl, was a traveling salesman and a serious outdoorsman (see Figure 2). His mother, Clara was a highly educated and sophisticated woman (no doubt where Aldo derived his penchant for philosophy and poetry) and also had a great love of the outdoors.

Aldo was born in his grandparent’s house and his grandfather, Charles Starker, was a tremendous influence on him from birth, as he had been with Clara. He was an amateur naturalist who strongly believed that cities should include dedicated spaces (parks and open spaces) where people could “enjoy nature’s offerings”.



Figure 2. Carl Leopold with his hunting dog, Flick, circa 1900. Courtesy of University of Wisconsin – Madison Archives.



As soon as Aldo could walk, “he was toddling beside his grandfather in the greenhouse and the yard, learning about plants and songbirds.” Aldo had a younger sister and brother, Marie and Carl, and while all of them became amateur naturalists like their grandfather, it was Aldo who took to woodcraft the most (in this context woodcraft refers to knowledge of the woods and a pursuit of the outdoors).

Carl began taking Aldo with him on hunting trips at a very young age, some accounts say when he was only 4 or 5. Initially, Aldo carried a heavy stick to imitate a gun and had to first show his father he could handle it properly before getting a real one. Soon after receiving his first shotgun, Aldo developed a real passion for duck hunting. He also learned, from his father, to sensibly limit his kill.

For Carl Leopold was nothing, if not all about sportsmanship, honor and ethics – and he frequently spoke out against practices such as market hunting and dynamiting fish. Carl was one of the first members of the Boone and Crocket Club, a pioneering conservation society founded by like-minded Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and George Bird Grinnell, where he argued for hunting laws that would set bag limits and make the sale of game illegal.

Carl was one of the first naturalists to talk about protecting the forests and had frequent discussions with young Aldo about “the woods in general and how they should be managed and preserved.” While Aldo was still in elementary school, at the urging of preservationists such as John Muir, Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland set aside millions of acres in the western part of the U.S. as forest preserves (or reserves).

Working together with the preservationists, but with a pretty different view on things, were the early conservationists led by Roosevelt, Pinchot and Grinell. These men championed “wise use” as the way to ensure forest and game survival. Pinchot argued for a program that would allow for regulated lumbering, mining and grazing (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. John Muir flanked by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Photo was taken in a sequoia grove at Yosemite, courtesy of the Forest Service Collection, National Agriculture Library.



Roosevelt, Pinchot and the conservationists won out and Cleveland chose Pinchot to oversee a Division of Forestry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created in 1881. In 1900 Pinchot’s family funded the first American forestry school, located at Yale University. When Roosevelt was president, he signed the Transfer Act of 1905 and the management of the forests was transferred to to the new U.S. Forest Service – with Pinchot as the first U.S. Chief Forester.


A Career in Forestry

As a teenager, when Aldo heard first about Yale’s forestry program and then the new Forest Service, his career path was set. In 1904, his family sent him to the prestigious Lawrenceville (Prep) School, in New Jersey (see Figure 4). After graduating from Lawrenceville in May of 1905, he attended Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. In 1906, he began taking courses at Yale Forest School and, in 1909, became one of the first to graduate from Pinchot School of Forestry with an M.A. in Forestry.



Figure 4. Aldo Leopold at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, prepping for Yale, circa 1905. Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.



While Aldo was at Yale, Roosevelt increased the total number of acres in the forest reserve system from 63 to 150 million acres. In 1907 Pinchot renamed the forest reserves the National Forests. According to Lorbiecki, this move signaled that the forests, under Pinchot, were to be used and not preserved – much to the chagrin of preservationists. Aldo, able to see pros on both sides of the coin, had mixed feelings but went along with Pinchot for the time being. It should be noted that Roosevelt, himself, had mixed feelings about his good friend’s policies.

According to Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and author of the recent (2010) The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, “Roosevelt didn’t believe only in Pinchot’s notion that national forests were to be mainly conserved, not preseerved. For Roosevelt, always interested in animals, forests were also “cradles of wildlife.”

After leaving Yale in 1909, Aldo completed his assigned field work, passed his civil service exams and joined the U.S. Forest Service. He was assigned to District 3, a much-coveted position covering 21 forests in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories (headquartered in Albuquerque, NM, under Supervisor John Guthrie).

In 1911, Aldo was transferred to the Carson National forest in northern New Mexico and named Deputy Supervisor. By this point, numerous species of wildlife were in dire straits across the country, their populations were rapidly dwindling and many appeared on the verge of extinction. In response, Teddy Roosevelt established 51 game refuges across the U.S. before leaving office (see Figure 5).



Figure 5. Roosevelt established the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve as the first big-game animal refuge in the U.S.



The Learning Lesson

Both preservationists and conservations agreed that this number needed to be greatly increased. Inspired by Roosevelt, Aldo put together tentative plans for a local game refuge, possibly to be located in the Blue Mountain area of New Mexico – a plan which Guthrie fully supported. While he was formulating his ideas for a game refuge, Aldo made one of the biggest mistakes of his career – one which would haunt him for the rest of his life and serve as a formative learning lesson.

Along with the rest of the foresters and rangers in his district, Aldo waged a campaign to eradicate wolves, mountain lions and grizzly bears – predators of the (primarily game) species that they wished to protect. According to Lorbieki, “It took him along time to understand the implications of what he had done.”

One incident, in particular had a major impact on Aldo; He, along with another forester, killed a female wolf and several young pups. After firing on them from a ridge, the two men walked up and watched the mother die from close range. He later wrote:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new in me in those eyes – something known only to her and the mountain.”

Although Aldo adhered to the policy of killing predators for many years to come (because this is what the policy-makers had trained him to do), this incident was a sign, if you will, that once you disrupt the balance of nature it is: 1) almost impossible to anticipate all of the consequences of your actions and 2) there is a high degree of probability that some of the consequences will be bad – to say nothing about every species’ right to life.

In this particular case, in time, after virtually all of their predators were vanquished, deer populations rebounded in the southwest. Unfortunately, their populations continued to increase unabated and caused enormous damage (depredations) to farmers crops and residential landscaping. In addition, their territorial expansion into urban areas caused untold numbers of automobile accidents and resulted in many fatalities.

1912 was a big year for Aldo; he was promoted to Supervisor of the Carson National Forest, inaugurated The Carson Pine Cone, a forest service newsletter (see Figure 6) and on October 9, married the love of his life, Estella Bergere, a local woman from a prominent New Mexico family.



Figure 6. The Carson Pine Cone, circa 1912. Aldo used this newsletter to communicate his ideas throughout his forest district. Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Archives.



A Sense of Urgency to Protect…

in April of 1913, Aldo was traveling on horseback in the Jicarilla Mountains when he was caught in a fierce hailstorm. He was soaked to the skin overnight and became very ill. Misdiagnosed as rheumatism, Aldo came close to dying from Bright’s disease or nephritis (his kidneys had failed).

These three life-changing events (gazing into the dying wolf’s eyes, getting married and trying to start a family and then nearly dying) combined with being bed-ridden for six weeks and having time to read the works of Henry David Thoreau, American naturalist, essayist, poet and philosopher, as well as Our Vanishing Wildlife by William Temple Hornaday, American zoologist, conservationist and author (and first director of what is now known as the Bronx Zoo) has a profound effect on Aldo.

After reading Hornaday describe the dramatic decline in most wild species, especially game species, such as ducks and deer, Aldo felt that if something were not done soon, “his children would never know the woods as he had.” Then, on October 22, 1913, Aldo and Estella welcomed their first child, Aldo Starker Leopold, into the world (see Figure 7).



Figure 7. Estella, Aldo and baby Starker, circa 1913. Courtesy of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.



All of the Forest’s Resources

Aldo now felt an urgent need to develop a successful strategy for protecting game species – and he believed it would require a new “holistic” approach. Still working for the U.S Forest Service, Aldo began to develop a plan that would include all of the forest’s resources, which he initially identified as “timber, water, forage, farm, recreative, game, fish and scenic.”

Leopold’s early attempts at getting U.S. Forest Service personnel to actively participate in game management met with resistance, as this responsibility had historically been left up to state and territorial agencies. But Aldo persisted, proposing that the Forest Service work more closely with the nascent Bureau of Biological Survey to oversee game and fish conservation.

In 1915, while Estella was pregnant with their second son, Luna, Aldo conducted extensive research on animals, birds and fish of the southwest and it formed the basis for his Game and Fish Handbook, the first Forest Service publication on wildlife. He argued that every species in the forest had vital biological and economic value – except predators.

In reviewing Aldo’s work, I infer Aldo had already come to the conclusion that the destruction of predators was wrong. However, this was a hot topic among hunters and ranchers and he realized he would need their support for his overall plans (the greater good). Aldo included ideas for restocking (as it was still standard game management practice at the time) and outlined plans for a system of forest and game refuges.

In order to get the public involved and generate support for game management, Aldo called for a New Mexico chapter of the American Game Protective Association, a national conservation organization sponsored by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. At Aldo’s request, Dr. William Hornaday agreed to meet with local sportsmen, ranchers and farmers.

Hornaday spoke at length about the plight of America’s vanishing wildlife and repeated his past predictions of mass extinctions (see Figure 8). The audience was very receptive and soon game-protection societies started springing up in the bigger cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos; within a year the New Mexico Game Protective Association (NMGPA) was a reality.



Figure 8. Dr. William T. Hornaday. He is credited with revolutionizing displays in museums by having wildlife appear in their natural settings. Courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.



Wilderness Areas and Soil Conservation

Following WWI, Aldo continued to gravitate toward game management, however, after meeting with a young a forestry assistant, Arthur Carhart, Aldo developed a new passion. Carthart recommended that a portion of one of the national Forests under Aldo’s supervision be “permanently preserved as a wilderness area – with no so-called “improvements.”

Aldo was made aware that previous attempts to set aside wilderness areas within the national forests had resulted in national parks (the National Park System was officially established in 1916). Aldo worried that such areas could be opened to future development.

According to Lorbiecki, Aldo also had come to believe “the goal of the park system seemed to be to build as many roads to scenic areas and shuttle as many tourists through the system as possible.” Aldo wrote, To cherish we must see and fondle… and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”

At this point, Aldo and Carhart were thwarted from moving ahead with wilderness areas within the national forests because their ideas were opposed to Pinchot’s “wise use” manifesto. Aldo next set his sights on examining the forest “with the intensity of a scientist.” What he discovered gave him great cause for concern.

Years of overgrazing and irresponsible logging practices had stripped the forests of “their protective layers of grasses, ground cover and saplings.” Aldo examined 30 forests and found that 27 had been seriously impaired or destroyed by subsequent erosion. In the case of the Apache National Forest, virtually all of the topsoil had been washed away along both sides of the Blue River. Aldo quickly discovered the issue was not limited to his district (see Figure 9).



Figure 9. Cut-over land on mountainside of the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, circa 1910s. Courtesy of the Forest History Society.



Aldo conducted a great deal of research into soil and this brought him into contact with perhaps the leading soil and erosion expert of the day, Charles Cooperrider. Aldo concluded the Forest Service would have to do a great deal of work to undo the damage that had been done; grazing permits would have to be limited or abolished altogether in sensitive, arid areas. He now came to believe that soil was the most important of all the forest resources:

“Destruction of the soil is the most fundamental kind of economic loss for which the human race can suffer. With enough time and money, a neglected farm can be put back on its feet – if the soil is there. By expensive replanting and with a generation or two of waiting, a ruined forest can again be made productive – if the soil is there… But if the soil is gone, the loss is absolute and irrevocable.”

In the early 1920s, Aldo returned to working with Carhart in an effort to change the Forest Service’s attitude toward preserving wilderness areas. He published an article in the Journal of Forestry, wherein he argued the Forest Service needed to further expand its mission; this time to include wilderness preservation. Aldo 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 canoe or pack trip, and kept devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages or other works of man.” Leopold further stated  “If people want to get back to nature, the government ought to preserve a little nature to get back to.”

In 1923 Aldo wrote the Watershed Handbook, the first U.S. Forest Service publication on soil erosion control. The comprehensive work defined soil erosion, listed its causes, discussed various natural and artificial erosion controls – including different types of vegetation – and suggested groups and organizations that might work together to help solve the national erosion problem.

Current U.S Forestry Chief William B. Greely recognized that Aldo Leopold, with his work in forestry, game management, wilderness protection and soil control – brought a lot to the table and transferred him to the USDA Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin (see Figure 10).



Figure 10. Aldo Leopold, circa 1920s. When he was at the Forest Products Lab, a coworker referred to him as “a fish out of water.”



Aldo, the outdoorsman, never could adjust to being stuck working in a laboratory. Some accounts say that he was also uncomfortable with the commercial and industrial emphasis present in the lab environment. So, in 1927, he sent out letters to various organizations, including the American Game Protective Association and the nearby University of Wisconsin – desiring an opportunity to establish An institute for research in game management and a training school for administers of game.


An American Game Policy & Game Management

According to Lorbiecki, the right combination of position, salary, and location did not materialize at that time. This is when Aldo went to work for John Olin and the Sporting Arms and Ammunitions Manufacturer’s Institute (SAAMI). Aldo returned to doing field work, as he was asked to conduct a state-by state history and census of game species.

Begun on July 1, 1928, Leopold’s monumental study was the first of its kind. Its purpose was to appraise the chance for the practice of game management as a means of game restoration in central North America. Not only did Aldo make a study of the wildlife, inspect the land and search through public files – he talked to hundreds of people from all walks of life: bird watchers, business owners, farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, forestry and state conservation agency personnel, politicians and scientists.

Aldo established a clear correlation between wild species populations and the “fitness” of their habitat – specifically, the amount of food, water and cover present: “Species survival depended on sufficient habitat nationwide for the animals to feed, hide and nest.” Leopold came to the conclusion that limiting or prohibiting hunting would not work if the species’ habitat was impaired or destroyed.

He also came to the conclusion that for many species (for example, deer) previous methods of game management – combining hunting restrictions, predator control [my emphasis] and game refuges – “Had proven so successful at increasing populations that they had been self-defeating.” According to Lorbiecki, the herds in the forest reserves had grown so large that they were eating away saplings and ground cover, and dying of malnutrition. 

Aldo stated: “The Gila Deer herd [near the Grand Canyon], by then wolfless and all but lionless [sic], soon multiplied beyond reason… The deer had so eaten out the range that reduction of the herd was imperative. Here my sin against the wolf caught up with me. The Forest Service [in order to make hunting more efficient] ordered the construction of a new road splitting my wilderness area in two. The roads and the humans [they] brought damaged the wilderness as wolves and mountain lions never could.”

Many of the findings in Aldo’s study were used in developing An American Game Policy, published in 1930 (see Figure 11). It was one of the first and most important blueprints for game management and is thought to have marked the beginning of scientific game management. Aldo followed this effort, in 1933, with his classic book, Game Management, which became the bible of the game management profession.



Figure 11. An American Game Policy argued for a cooperative effort.



At the end of Game Management, Aldo Leopold revealed his dream (one that had been building and evolving since he was a young boy), both for game management and for society as a whole:

“In short, [the last] twenty years of ‘progress’ have brought about the average citizen a vote, a national anthem, a Ford, a bank account, and a high opinion of himself, but not the capacity to live in high density without befowling and denuding his environment, nor a conviction that such a capacity, rather than such a density, is the true test of whether he is civilized. The practice of game management may be one of the means of developing culture which will meet this test.”

This passage may best be evaluated within the context of a piece he wrote for U.S. Forest Service officials ten years earlier:

The privilege of possessing the earth entails the responsibility of passing it on, the better for our use, not only to immediate posterity, but to the Unknown Future.”

When Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin, Franklin (FDR) became president in 1933, he relied on Aldo’s soil conservation work as the basis for forming his Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). FDR stated: The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself” and then charged the CCC with keeping the nation’s topsoil in place. At the president’s request, Aldo spent the summer directing the CCC’s soil erosion efforts in the Southwest (see Figure 12).



Figure 12. The CCC works to plant trees and restore the soil in Wisconsin, circa 1930s. Courtesy of Earth Magazine.


During this summer, Aldo made one of the most famous speeches of his career to members of the American Association for Advancement of Science in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The speech was titled “The Conservation Ethic” and explained his idea that civilization is built upon an interdependent community consisting of animals, plants and soils:

“Civilization is not… the enslavement of a stable and constant earth. It is a state of mutual and interdependent cooperation between human animals, other animals, plants and soils, which may be disrupted at any time by the failure of any of them.”


A Graduate Program in Game Management

Also in the summer of 1933, Aldo accepted a position as chair of the first graduate program in game management at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (see Figure 13). He outlined some of his initial goals in an interview which was published in the Milwaukee Journal:

“To conduct research in the life history of Wisconsin birds and animals; develop cropping methods suitable for their [the birds and animals] increase; train men to devise and apply such methods; impart to other students a general understanding of the wild life conservation problem; assist farmers and other landowners in selecting and applying cropping methods; integrate game with other uses of the land; and advise conservation officers on questions of wild life management and policy.”



Figure 13. Aldo Leopold becomes chair of the new Game Management Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This article appeared in the August 15, 1933 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal.



A radio show talk impressed a local farmer, Stoughton Faville, and Faville helped organize a group of local farms into an experimental land laboratory with which to apply and test Aldo’s ideas. This eventually became the Faville Grove Wildlife Experimental Area, where Aldo’s students worked with farmers to raise crops that would better support wild such species as quail, pheasants and Hungarian partridges. The cooperative experiment was an unqualified success; within a year the area’s topsoil was much more stable and the local quail population had doubled – and thus served as “a demonstration for the nation” (You can still visit what is now Faville Grove Sanctuary, today).


The Migratory Bird Waterfowl Stamp

In 1934, Aldo was appointed to The Committee for Wild Life Restoration by FDR. The other members of the committee consisted of Ding Darling and Thomas Beck. In the face of steeply declining populations (exacerbated by the Dust Bowl) they were charged with creating a plan for saving the nation’s wildlife. Together with Darling and Roosevelt, Aldo helped make the much needed federal migratory waterfowl stamp a reality (see Figures 14 and 15). For more on this, see John Olin, Ding Darling, Maynard Reese & King Buck: The Making of an Icon – Part Two.



Figure 14. Large die proof for the first federal waterfowl stamp, artwork by Ding Darling. Courtesy of Will Csaplar.



Figure 15. The stamps were put on sale to the public on August 24, 1934.



The new stamp program would provide vital funds for a proposed national wildlife refuge system – and gave birth to what would develop into the hobby of fish and game stamp collecting – the pastime to which this website is dedicated to guiding and preserving for posterity.


Darling Increases the Number of Cooperative Wildlife Research Units

After Ding Darling had successfully led the fight to remove politics from Iowa’s conservation activities (see The Perfect Man for the Job in Part One), he was named the first chairman of the new Iowa Fish and Game Commission. Darling created a committee led by Aldo Leopold, who was already widely recognized as the nation’s foremost expert in game management, and charged them with developing a “comprehensive 25-year conservation plan for the state.”

According to an article on the U.S Geological Survey website, after working with Leopold for a short time, Darling was made aware of the need for “scientifically-trained specialists to do professional wildlife management, research, and administration.”

Darling asked Irwin T. Bode to help organize a cooperative partnership between himself (Darling), the Iowa Fish and Game Commission and Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) and, in 1932, brought in Paul Errington, who had received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin to establish and lead the nation’s first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. 

While Aldo had yet to begin chairing his graduate program in game management at the University of Wisconsin, the men met when Errington accepted an industrial fellowship (1929-32) to work with Aldo on Wisconsin quail. Aldo subsequently became a mentor and, according to some accounts, was allowed to participate in Errington’s PhD exams before he formally became a faculty member. He no doubt recommended Errington to Darling (see Figure 16).



Figure 16. Dr. Paul Errington, another disciple of Aldo Leopold, would have a long and distinguished career – he was named one of America’s top 10 Naturalists by Life Magazine in 1961.



After Roosevelt brought Darling to Washington to work on The Committee for Wild Life Restoration with Aldo, and Darling agreed to serve as the Director of the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service), Darling lobbied for the legislation and private support needed to take Aldo’s Cooperative Research idea nationwide.

By December of 1935, eight units were located at land-grant colleges in Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Virginia (in cooperation with their respective state conservation departments and private funding obtained largely through the American Wildlife Institute (now the Wildlife Management Institute). In 1936, two more units opened, including the one at the University of Missouri where Charles Schwartz received his training.


The Wilderness & Wildlife Societies

Inspired by Aldo’s speeches and writing, four men met in the fall of 1934 with the idea of creating a new conservation organization to oppose destructive land practices and excessive development in the nation’s remaining wilderness areas. They approached him with the idea and on January 15, 1935, Aldo helped establish The Wilderness Society. For Aldo, it was a cause he had been deeply committed to since his encounter with Carthart, over ten years earlier (see Figure 17).



Figure 17. Why the Wilderness Society? by Aldo Leopold.



According to Lorbieki, by 1936, Aldo had come to the conclusion that “Understanding, rather than control, must be the goal of wildlife specialists. The more humans know about the land community [to include the soil, water, forests, plants, birds and animals], the less damage they may do to it.” Addressing a conference on Engineering and Conservation, Aldo stated:

Our tools are better than we are, and they grow faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it [my emphasis].”

Aldo and other conservationists were, by this point, succeeding in bring about a new attitude toward game management. Roosevelt called for the first North American Wildlife Conference to be held in Washington, D.C. in February of 1936 – signaling that game conservation had officially evolved into wildlife conservation.

At the conference, Aldo, with the help of other notable wildlife biologists and managers, formed an organization of “Wildlife Specialists” that we know today as The Wildlife Society.

In the fall of 1936, Aldo and a friend made a long hunting trip through the Sierra Madre Mountains in Chihuahua, Mexico. Aldo came to the realization that, only here, had he ever witnessed unspoiled land communities (or biotas) that were still in perfect health. Most notable to Aldo was the fact that predators (wolves and mountain lions) still ruled the area – and the habitat remained in equilibrium.

Upon returning from this trip, Aldo began urging his students and nationwide wildlife managers to protect all species in land communities, including predators and also rare plants:

“The last word on ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘what good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something we like but do not [fully] understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

According to Liebecki, “To speed the change in management thinking and attitudes [to a more “holistic” approach], Leopold urged the Wilderness Society and the Wildlife Society to hold joint meetings with the Ecological Society of America, of which he was also a member. All three societies shared basic concerns and policy objectives, and leopold wanted to encourage them to base their decisions more firmly on ecology and land health – to consider all the cogs and wheels.”


Living Harmoniously With The Land and Its Wildlife

By 1937, Aldo’s Game Management 118 had become one of the most popular classes on campus. He now had seven graduate students, including Fred and Fran Hamerstrom (see Figure 18). According to Fran:

“Aldo Leopold was the first professor I ever heard of to accept a girl graduate student. The very thought of a female wildlifer was so bizarre that it hardly bore consideration… [However] Aldo evaluated people – and was way ahead of his time in saying Nay to sex discrimination.”



Figure 18. Fred and Fran Hamerstrom with their mentor, Aldo Leopold, circa late 1930s.



In the Fall of 1938, Aldo made changes to his curriculum and Game Management 118 became Wildlife Ecology 118. According to Liebecki, this signaled that “His focus had shifted permanently from game management to living harmoniously with the land and its wildlife.

In 1939, Shortly before meeting with Charles and Libby, Aldo Leopold was made the head of the new Department of Wildlife Management in the College of Agriculture. Unfortunately, his health had also started to deteriorate at a relatively young age; perhaps due to his earlier near death experience – perhaps the result of being driven by an otherworldly passion for so very long.

However, his friends and family could take solace in the fact that Aldo’s compelling emotions had served him well – for he truly made a difference in our world and, more to the point, our quality of life. Around this time Ding Darling offered a current appraisal of the 52 year old man who, as a young boy, took so instinctively to the woods and a pursuit of the outdoors:

“Aldo Leopold is recognized in every circle of conservationists as the ranking authority and leading voice in the country.”

That voice has always been there to remind us that our choices have consequences – perhaps not always seen in our lifetime – and it is our responsibility to make the very best ones we possibly can (remember the cogs and wheels). We can be grateful for the fact that Aldo and his family left us many valuable tools, if you will, for helping us make some of these important choices.

Aldo Leopold’s impressive body of work has inspired a legion of disciples to carry the torch. Influential people like Charles and Libby Schwartz have worked tirelessly to help educate citizens in all walks of life as to the need for wildlife conservation and, more important, respect for the land. Perhaps the most compelling of Aldo’s work’s is The Sand County Almanac, which we shall take a look at in Missouri’s Audubon – Part Three.


To return to Missouri’s Audubon – Part Two, click here.


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