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Aldo Leopold | Biography


Aldo Leopold was born on January 11, 1887, in Burlington, Iowa. He was a nature lover from childhood, avidly observing, drawing, and writing about Iowa's woods, prairies, and other natural features—with much the same devotion he would later use to observe Wisconsin and write A Sand County Almanac. He went to Yale University's Forest School and graduated in 1909 with a master's degree in forestry. He soon joined the U.S. Forest Service and spent several years in Arizona and New Mexico, quickly rising in responsibility and becoming the Carson National Forest supervisor. While working in New Mexico, his proposal to create the Gila Wilderness Area resulted in the first such wilderness area ever recorded. He also met Estella Bergere, a schoolteacher, and fell in love. The couple married in 1912 and had their first child, Starker, in 1913. Three more children were born in New Mexico. Throughout his university years, marriage, and early career, Leopold continued his habit of observing and journaling about nature.

In 1924 he was transferred to U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, and began to independently study wildlife and game. A fifth child was born to Estella and Aldo in 1927. Leopold's independent research led to a book, Game Management (1933), and a job offer from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The university appointed him chair of the newly formed Department of Game Management.

In 1935 Leopold bought a decrepit farm near the Wisconsin River, paying about $8 per acre—inexpensive because of its poor condition. An old chicken coop (nicknamed "The Shack") was the only standing building on the farm, and Leopold made this structure into a rustic cabin where he and his family could go on weekends and hunt. Through the 1930s—the rest of the nation still reeling from the Great Depression (1929–39) and the prairie droughts and dust storms of the Dust Bowl—Leopold and the family transformed the farm. They planted a garden, native prairie plants, and thousands of trees, and they made the Shack more habitable. It was during these years at the Shack that Leopold gathered the observations he would collect into A Sand County Almanac.

Although it took him over 12 years to complete his book, Leopold never lived to see it in print. In 1948, just a week after learning it had been accepted for publication, he died of a heart attack on April 21. About a year later A Sand County Almanac was published. The book, intended to help readers understand the workings of nature and the importance of understanding the connection between nature and humanity, found a receptive audience. It has since been translated into 12 languages and has sold millions of copies, becoming one of the most well-known and respected books on conservation ever written. As a body of work, his writings are still considered among the most important in developing modern environmental advocacy and conservationism.
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