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Aldo Leopold Legacy — Revisiting Leopold

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The Leopold Legacy

As the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the “Leopold Report” of 50 years ago remains influential, but much has also changed.

By Tom Persinger Winter 2014 American Forests


Aldo Leopold’s shack. Credit: Tom Persinger


First protected in 1864, Yosemite became one of the first U.S. national parks in 1890. Currently, more than 3.7 million people visit each year. Credit: Arturo Yee


The shack I stand looking at on this cold winter day was once a run-down chicken coop on an abandoned farm on the Wisconsin River. But, in 1935, this place would become Aldo Leopold’s weekend family retreat, living laboratory and the site where he would write one of America’s most enduring environmental masterpieces, “A Sand County Almanac.” It is also the land that would shape each of his children’s lifelong pursuits and passions. Aldo Starker Leopold, Aldo’s oldest son, commonly called Starker, was already a young man by the time the Leopold family began their work to restore the farm to conditions resembling the days before its collapse from over-farming. Even so, his time and effort there would prove foundational. In this place, Starker cleared brush, planted pines, built the outhouse affectionately referred to as “The Parthenon” and worked in his father’s living laboratory as they experimented with ways to manage wildlife. Starker would use these experiences and others to go on to a distinguished career as professor at University of California, Berkeley, author, forester, zoologist, conservationist and — perhaps most significantly — creator of the document that would shape over 50 years of National Park Service policy. So, my visit this morning to Leopold’s shack and through the Leopold Pines is a visit to hallowed ground. And it is the beginning of my journey to uncover more about how the document this place inspired has shaped the course of land management history.



The report that would become one of the most significant in National Park Service history was born of a public relations disaster. In 1962, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall tasked Starker Leopold with addressing the issue of wildlife population control in national parks. Udall’s request was formed in response to the public outcry brought upon by park personnel killing over 4,000 elk in Yellowstone National Park in the winter of 1961…..


Revisiting Leopold” offers what it calls the precautionary principle as a tool moving forward in the face of that uncertainty. It “requires that stewardship decisions reflect science-informed prudence and restraint.” Moving forward is never easy, and moving forward into the unknown can be paralyzing without the toolset and method with which to do so.


Toward its end, “Revisiting Leopold” offers a few steps toward the effective
implementation of its policy recommendations.


Considering the size and scope of NPS operations, it will be interesting to see how these recommendations are utilized to guide and develop future policy decisions. A leaner, more efficient organization is desirable, but could be difficult to achieve considering the current lack of financial support. Equally interesting to see will be if these recommendations prove to have the same staying power and long-term vision as Leopold’s initial report…..

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