Stu Levitan is in the studio for this pledge drive edition of Madison BookBeat.
He’s joined by Curt Meine, Associate Adjunct Professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, and author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work and The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (1999).
He’s also joined by Kathy Miner, Naturalist at the UW Arboretum, host of this Saturday’s annual Madison Reads Leopold.
“Of all the conservationists who have preceded us,” Wendell Berry writes in the new edition of Aldo Leopold: His life and Work, “Leopold was the most radical, the most complete, and therefore the most needed. He was the most radical, simply, because he got nearest to the root of our problem: the lack of an appropriate standard by which to measure and guide our economic life.”
Or as Leopold himself wrote in the introduction to A Sand County Almanac, Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. 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. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap it from the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture. 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. That land yields cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten. –
Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington IA in 1887, was an outdoorsman even as a child. Decided to become a forester as a teenager after Gifford Pinchot gave money to Yale to start a forestry school. To improve his chances of getting in, his parents sent him to Lawrenceville prep school in new jersey – ironically, more associated with Princeton than yale. It worked, he got his yale graduate degree.
Joined the Forest Service in 1909, sent to the Arizona Territory. Transferred to the New Mexico territory in 1911, and over the next 13 years developed the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon, wrote the Service’s first game and fish handbook, and proposed the Gila Wilderness Area, the first national wilderness area in the Forest Service.
In 1924, Leopold came to Madison as associate director of the US Forest Products Laboratory. It was not a good fit, he was a bit of a fish out of water, and in 1928 he accepted an offer from an industry group called the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute to oversee a nationwide study of game conditions.
He did that for four years, finished his pioneering book Game Management, survived the depths of the depression as a consulting forester, turned down an offer to head the Biological Survey in Henry Wallace’s Department of Agriculture, and in 1933 joined the faculty of the UW as Professor of Game Management in the Department of Agricultural Economics – the first such position in the country, in the first such department in the country.
It was funded for its first five years by a grant from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, thereafter by the state of Wisconsin. In short order he also became the first research director for the UW Arboretum and helped found the Wilderness Society, where another great Wisconsin environmentalist, Gaylord Nelson, would become counselor in the 1980s.
In early 1935, Leopold found a property outside of Baraboo near the Wisconsin River in Sauk County, at the southern tip of the state’s central sands, its only structure a chicken coop filled with manure. He would come to call it the shack, and it would be where he further developed his understanding of what he called “the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”
For the next thirteen years, he taught, wrote, and worked the land with axe in hand.
On April 14, 1948, an editor at Oxford University Press called Leopold to say they would publish the book we know as A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There.
Seven days later, while fighting a trash fire at a neighbor’s that had grown and spread to threaten his cherished pines, Leopold suffered a fatal heart attack.
When published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac was not that big a deal, but the new environmental movement of the 1970s made it a surprise and late-blooming best-seller. It has since been translated into at least 14 languages and sold more than two million copies, and is in the pantheon of great environmental writing, along with Thoreau’s Walden and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
There is no one who knows more about the life and legacy of Aldo Leopold than Curt Meine.
In addition to his university position, Curt Meine serves as Senior Fellow with the Chicago-based Center for Humans and Nature and with the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where he is also a Research Associate with the International Crane Foundation.
Meine received his B.A. in English and History from DePaul University in Chicago, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Land Resources from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his dissertation was published in 1988 as the aforementioned award-winning Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work and reissued in a new edition in 2010, and available to you as a special premium on today’s show, Meine has written and edited a number of books on conservation and environmental history, including Wallace Stegner and the Continental Vision (1998), Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation (2004); and the Library of America collection Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac and Other Writings on Ecology and Conservation (2013), most recently as coeditor of the bioregional anthology The Driftless Reader (2017).
Meine also served as narrator and on-screen guide for the Emmy Award-winning documentary film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time (2011), which continues to be screened in venues around the country and has appeared more than 1,000 times on PBS stations
Kathy Miner knows a bit about Leopold as well. For more than 20 yeas she has been a part-time naturalist at the UW Arboretum, where one of her activities is coordinating the annual Madison Reads Leopold, a full-day of reading Sand County Almanac and other writings, which takes place this Saturday at the Arboretum visitor center. Kathy also has degrees in elementary education and library science, and of course has never had a paying job in either field. She sings with and writes songs for the Raging Grannies, and as I said is a WORT volunteer, helping out as receptionist …