The Importance of Aldo Leopold

January 29, 2019

Stanely Temple – Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Senior Fellow Aldo Leopold Foundation

Curt Meine – Senior Fellow Aldo Leopold Foundation

As someone who is deeply invested in and knowledgeable when it comes to the impact and importance of Leopold, what made you want to become involved in helping the Libraries with this particular exhibit?

Stanley Temple (image: Leopld Foundation)

ST: “Having given many tours of the Aldo Leopold Archives for those who already appreciate his rich legacy, I know that examining tangible artifacts of his life and career has a powerful impact. I wanted to help ensure the material in this exhibit’s small sample of the university’s extensive archival collection gives an accurate and engaging overview of a remarkable individual’s life. I am pleased that the exhibit succeeds in this challenge.”

CM: “This exhibit provides a special opportunity to revisit Aldo Leopold’s legacy on the 70th anniversary of his landmark book, A Sand County Almanac.  As a Leopold biographer, I have always felt a responsibility to share what I know of his story and legacy.  I find that on such commemorative occasion, I always find myself reexamining that story in new ways, and finding new insights.”

What do you hope people take away from this exhibit?

ST: “For those who may be less familiar with Aldo Leopold I hope the items chosen for this public exhibit will make them want to learn more about him. For those who already know something about Leopold, I hope the exhibit reveals new insights that strengthen their appreciation of his timely and timeless contributions. For everyone who visits the exhibit, I hope it makes them want to explore the trove of additional material available online in the Aldo Leopold Archives.”

CM: For those familiar with Leopold and his work, I hope it provides some new perspectives and an opportunity to understand a bit more deeply the fascinating story behind A Sand County Almanac.  For those new to Leopold, I hope it opens the door to his work in conservation and his legacy of connecting people to each other and to the land.

You’re helping to carry on Leopold’s legacy. What does that mean for you both personally and professionally?

ST: “Having spent my UW career in the faculty position once held by Aldo Leopold I have felt a special obligation to learn as much as possible about him so that I can accurately convey his important ideas in my classroom teaching and my public outreach. Because I personally share Leopold’s deep concerns about our relationship with Nature, I am inspired by his example to remain hopeful in the face of what can appear to be insurmountable conservation challenges of our time.”

Curt Meine (image, Leopold Foundation)

CM: “On a personal level, it means that I am able to ground my own work in conservation and community resilience in history – and especially in Leopold’s key contributions to the long journey that is conservation.  On a professional level, it means, more than anything, having opportunities to make a critical point:  that Leopold’s legacy continues to evolve to meet the challenges and opportunities of our time, and that the “land ethic” he professed is ours to build and grow according to our own vision and imagination and need.”

Any fun or odd facts you would like to include about the exhibit, Leopold, etc.?

ST: “On first blush, some may find it puzzling that the exhibit reveals many seemingly incongruous facets of Leopold’s complex relationship with Nature. He was a bird watcher and a bird hunter, an advocate for protecting wilderness and a proponent of sustainable use of natural resources, a guardian of public wildlands who also understood the central importance of individual responsibility for the health of private lands, and much more. Careful examination of the exhibit reveals Leopold’s genius was that he navigated these complexities by constantly evolving his thinking about critical issues.”

CM: “I often point out one surprising fact about A Sand County Almanac.  The book is obviously closely associated with Aldo Leopold.  It is the path by which most people come to know him and his work.  It has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages.  It is a landmark in the way we understand the development of our moral responsibilities to our communities, to the land, to other species, to future generations.  And yet, Leopold himself never knew the book by that title.  He died before it was published and before the title was given to it.  That fact reminds us that behind every important text, there is a lived experience that we can sometimes overlook.  But the more we know that story, the richer the text in fact becomes!”

Bonus fact: 

ST: “Aldo Leopold died of a heart attack at age 61. The pipes and cigarettes he is holding in many of the photos in the exhibit reveal a possible explanation for that premature death.”

Be sure to join us for a special lecture from Curt Meine on March 30, 2019. More information here!