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Aldo Leopold

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Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was an early 20th century conservation ecologist, who said, "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering. [1]"

Early life

Born on the bluffs next to the Mississippi River in Iowa, Leopold observed the world around him, becoming a self-trained naturalist. This lead to him Forestry School where he completed a degree from Yale University. He went to work with the US Forest Service and landed in the Arizona Territories, a time where he started forming holistic views of the living systems around him. In the 1920s he transferred to Wisconsin and later began teaching at the University of Wisconsin. His first important book was Game Management, which started the field of wildlife management[2].

Later life

Land ethic

In 1948, Aldo Leopold developed the Land Ethic in the finale to A Sand County Almanac as a guide to human relationships with ecosystems[3]. Leopold's Golden Rule states, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. [4]" He developed this during his years working on native prairie restoration to provide guidance to the restoration project. With the land ethic humans move from a philosophical role where humans only bestow value to nature to one where nature also conveys values to humans[5]. Humans are not conquerors of nature but its citizens[6]. Here, unlike the view of Gifford Pinchot, nature is more than just a provider of commodities.

Long-term impacts

Leopold provided an ethical basis from which many conservation biologists and restoration ecologists build upon. For example, in the Principles of Conservation Biology textbook by Meffe and Carroll [7], Leopold's Golden Rule is one of the ethical foundations of the field.


  1. Temple, S., 1997. Maintaining the integrity of managed ecosystems, IN: (M.S. Boyce and A. Haney, eds.) Ecosystem Management. Yale Univ Press, New Haven. pg. 78.
  2. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center.
  3. The Aldo Leopold Foundation. The Leopold Legacy: The Land Ethic.
  4. Temple, pg. 78.
  5. Holmes Rolston III, 1987. Philosophy Gone Wild: Essays in Environmental Ethics. Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY.
  6. Buchholz, R.A., 1998. Principles of Environmental Management: The Greening of Business, 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, NY.
  7. Meffe, G.K. and R.C. Carroll, 1994. Principles of Conservation Biology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.