Leopold, Aldo (1887-1948), an American naturalist and conservationist, pioneered the application of ecological principles to wildlife management. He loved the outdoors, and believed people should enjoy wilderness areas while preserving the natural characteristics of such areas.
Leopold was born in the Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa, on Jan. 11, 1886, the son of Carl Leopold, manager of an office furniture manufacturer, and Clara (Starker) Leopold. Leopold's love of nature developed at a young age, as he enjoyed such activities as observing birds along the river. His parents sent him to Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Leopold attended Yale University's Sheffield Scientific School, where he received his B.S. degree in 1908. Remaining at Yale, Leopold received a master's degree in forestry the following year.
Leopold began a career with the United States Forest Service in 1909. Assigned to the Arizona Territory, his post took him to the Apache National Forest in the Arizona Territory. Leopold spent 15 years in the American Southwest, rising to chief of the district.
In 1911, Leopold was transferred to Carson National Forest in the New Mexico Territory, and became its supervisor the following year.
As he helped manage hunting, fishing, and recreation in public lands, Leopold developed ideas about preserving wildlife areas for recreation and beauty. He helped the Forest Service to move from its traditional stance of supporting hunters to a focus on preserving wilderness for other values as well.
Leopold, working in the Southwest, proposed the idea of federal wilderness areas. His first move toward that goal came when the expansion of a road system in the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico was proposed. Leopold suggested instead that a large area be left roadless. Local community members supported Leopold's efforts to establish a wilderness area.
In 1924, the Forest Service adopted Leopold's idea and set aside more than half a million acres (300,000 hectares) to become the Gila Wilderness Area, the first designated wilderness area in the world. This became the first of 78 such areas throughout the country by the end of the 1900's.
Also that year, Leopold's role with the Forest Service changed from fieldwork to research when he was appointed assistant director of the service's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, a position he held until 1928.
From 1928 to 1931, Leopold worked as a consultant for the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute, a job that required him to survey game populations in the north-central states. He published his findings in Report on a Game Survey of the North Central States (1931).
In 1933, the University of Wisconsin created the position of professor of wildlife management specifically for Leopold, and he held the post until his death.
Throughout the 1930's and 1940's, Leopold published numerous articles on the environment. His textbook, Game Management (1933), became a classic. In it, he taught that hunting can be used to help conserve wildlife. He also helped to found the Wilderness Society.
Leopold died of a heart attack on April 21, 1948, while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm. His legacy includes an area called the Aldo Leopold Wilderness that covers 202,016 acres (82 hectares) next to the Gila Wilderness. In 1964, the Wilderness Act was passed. In 1993, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute was established at the University of Montana, in Missoula, by the U.S. Forest Service. It is the only research group in the nation dedicated to developing the knowledge needed to improve management of wilderness and natural areas.
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