The Life and Legacy of Aldo Leopold

By Paul Kammerdiner
Reading has always been and continues to be one of my favorite pastimes, as a result I read everything and I mean everything! I even reads signs in places like the Arboretum. Have you taken the time to stop and read the informational signs here? We have brown signs for directions, black signs for identification of trees and plants, and we have green signs to just tell you about neat stuff. These green signs are aimed at education and there are several of them lined up along the path in the Arrival Garden where you begin your journey through the grounds.

This one is at the end of the path where it turns uphill and is an introduction to an important individual, closely related to many of the concepts we stand for.

For those that come to this place to relax and enjoy trees, flowers, and the attractions of a green space; the question; why is it here? may not enter into the thought process. It may not even for those of us who work to bring this place to life. However, places like this exist because of ideas and philosophies of others that have gone before. When we think of pioneers in conservation, ecological thought, and preservation of the natural world; names like John Muir, Rachel Carson and John James Audubon come to mind. Ranked right up there with them is one of Iowa’s native sons; Aldo Leopold.

Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa January 11, 1887; the “Rand” was eventually dropped. His house overlooked the Mississippi River. Aldo Leopold’s early life was highlighted by the outdoors. His Father would take the children on excursions into the woods and taught his oldest son woodcraft and hunting. Aldo showed an aptitude for observation, spending hours counting and cataloging birds near his home. A sister, Mar,y would later say of her older brother, “He was very much an outdoorsman, even in his extreme youth. He was always out climbing around the bluffs, or going down to the river, or going across the river into the woods”. Aldo decided at an early age that forestry was to be his vocation. So when in 1900 Gifford Pinchot who oversaw the newly implemented Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, donated money to Yale University to begin one of the nation’s first forestry schools Aldo determined to attend. In order to be accepted to Yale, his parents agreed to let him attend a prep school in New Jersey. He arrived at his new school in January 1904, shortly before he turned seventeen. He was considered an attentive student, although he was again drawn to the outdoors and Leopold spent much time mapping the area and studying its wildlife. Leopold studied at the prep school for a year, during which time he was accepted to Yale. Because the Yale Forest School granted only graduate degrees, he first enrolled in Sheffield Scientific School’s preparatory forestry courses for his undergraduate studies.

Leopold’s entry in the YaleSheffield Scientific School yearbook, 1908

Upon leaving Harvard he embarked on his career of choice and in 1909, Leopold was assigned to the Forest Service’s District 3 in the Arizona and New Mexico territories.

In 1911, he was transferred to the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico. Leopold’s career, which kept him in New Mexico until 1924, included developing the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon, writing the Forest Service’s first game and fish handbook, and proposing Gila Wilderness Area, the first national wilderness area in the Forest Service system.

On April 5, 1923, he was elected as an Associate Member of the Boone and Crockett Club a wildlife conservation organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinell.

In 1924, he accepted transfer to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin and became an associate director. In 1933, he was appointed Professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin Madison the first such professorship of wildlife management. Leopold lived in a modest two-story home close to the campus with his wife and children. Today, Leopold’s home is an official landmark of the city of Madison.

He purchased eighty acres in the sand country of central Wisconsin. The once-forested region had been logged, swept by repeated fires, overgrazed by dairy cows, and left barren. There he put his theories to work in the field and eventually wrote his best-selling A Sand County Almanac (1949), finished just prior to his death. Leopold died of a heart attack while battling a wild fire on a neighbor’s property.

Aldo Leopold was a true pioneer as well as a gifted writer; he developed a unique perspective on what it means to manage the wonders of our natural surroundings. He taught that even in the midst of development we needed to preserve at least some portion of the wilderness and to restore as much as we can to its original state. One of his most famous concepts was the land ethic quoted below:

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

I like to believe that the Arboretum is an example of our commitment to the land. Even though the Cedar Valley is still somewhat rural, we are seeing more and more development and encroachment on the natural beauty of our surroundings. Here, however, we promise a tranquil oasis in the midst of the concrete jungle. A place to learn and to enjoy being outside. By planting trees and restoring habitat, we provide a place for wildlife to thrive as well as an opportunity for all to learn about what our little corner of the world looked like before we got here. Come join us and as you wander the grounds and pause to rest on one of the wooden benches; you might like to know that the design of the bench came from none other than Aldo Leopold.

All information in this article was taken from


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