This is Aldo Leopold Week and communities throughout our nation are celebrating his life and legacy. The events vary from interactive discussions of his ideas to family nature outings, from readings of A Sand County Almanac to viewing Green Fire, an award-winning documentary film about Leopold and his work. I'm celebrating all week by trying to see our woods and pond and creek through Leopold's eyes.
This is Aldo Leopold Week, a good time to get to know more about him. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, he would become a scientist, ecologist, conservationist, philosopher, forester, teacher, and author. As a boy, he loved and explored nature, so when Gifford Pinchot donated money to Yale to develop one of our nation’s first forestry schools, he determined to go to Yale and become a forester. After graduating, he joined the Forestry Service and worked in Arizona and New Mexico.
Leopold was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, and in 1924, he initiated the first Forest Wilderness Area in the United States, the Gila National Forest. In that year, he was transferred to the US Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was an associate director. He founded the profession of game management and wrote the first important book on the subject. In 1933, he was appointed Professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was the first professorship of wildlife management. Shortly before his death in 1948, he was assigned as a conservation adviser to the United Nations.
This is Aldo Leopold Week, time to re-read his Sand County Almanac, an environmental classic. In Wisconsin, Leopold bought 80 acres in the sand country of central Wisconsin. The land had been deforested, overgrazed by cattle, and repeatedly burned by wildfires. It was a perfect laboratory for testing his theories of conservation and ethics. He advocated that each public and private land owner should manage and conserve wildlife habitats and diversity of species on the land. It was also the perfect place to write his almanac.
A Sand County Almanac is eloquent and funny, compassionate and determined, wise and important. It ranges from keen descriptions of nature on his Sand County property, month by month (the almanac), to essays on man’s destruction of the land and a “plea for a Wilderness esthetic.” The book begins: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
Favorite passages from A Sand County Almanac:
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about when chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”
“But all conservation is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”
“… I am glad that I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”
“Parks are made to bring the music to the many, but by the time many are attuned to hear it there is little left but noise.”
“A little repentance just before a species goes over the brink is enough to make us feel virtuous. When the species is gone we have a good cry and repeat the performance.”
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
"That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics."
"A society grows wise when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit."
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”