Monday, November 25, 2013

Aldo Leopold's Amazing Family

We just visited the Aldo Leopold Foundation and "the Shack" where the Leopold family spent weekends, planted 30,000 pine trees and Aldo wrote Sand County Almanac and other contributions highlighting conservation science, policy, and ethics.  Another aspect of the Leopold legacy is their incredible family. Among their many honors, they are the only family to have three siblings elected as members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Starker Leopold, the eldest son, was an ornithologist and professor of zoology at U.C. Berkeley.  He authored over 100 papers as well as multiple books such as Wildlife of Mexico: The Game Birds and Mammals and North American Game Birds and Mammals.

Warming up in the "Shack"
Next in line was Luna Leopold, trained in engineering, meteorology, geology and hydrology.  He "developed the scientific foundation for the field of fluvial geomorphology, the study of how rivers are shaped and influenced by their surrounding landscapes," and received many awards as a pioneer in this field of ecology.  It was a natural fit with his youthful experiences along the sandy banks of the Wisconsin River immediately behind the shack.


The middle child, Nina Leopold, was "the senior author of a 1999 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed decades of phenological records demonstrating that climate change was affecting the region and its native ecosystems."  She was instrumental in the development of the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the LEED certified buildings housing it.

Carl Leopold was a plant physiologist who wrote the classic textbook Plant Growth and Development.  He authored 2000 papers and five books.  In his teens he became the family photographer and most of the family images are his.

The "baby" of the family was Estella Leopold, eight years younger that her youngest sibling.  Not to be outdone, as a University of Washington professor of botany, forest resources and quaternary research, she authored of over 100 scientific publications in the fields of paleobotany, forest history, restoration ecology and environmental quality.  She may be best remembered for "pioneering the use of fossilized pollen and spores to understand how plants and ecosystems respond over eons to such things as climate change."

All in all, not too shabby for a bunch of siblings who spent their weekends planting pines and kicking around on a worn out patch of sandy farm, restoring a little bit of nature.

Aldo was notified of Sand County Almanac's acceptance for publication just one week before he died of a heart attack fighting a fire a mile from his shack.  The fire occured on the land now occupied by the Institute.

If you aren't familiar with the book but have visited this blog more than once, you owe it to yourself to find a copy.  You will return to it over the years.


  1. Thanks for this glimpse in the cabin! Did you know Aldo Leopold has a bit of a Missouri connection? I saw a talk by Dr. Susan Flader at a Missouri River Relief Big Muddy Speaker Series about him, how he came to visit the University of Missouri and was at the dedication of a wilderness refuge in Ashland. The Conservation Federation has republished his speech here:

  2. Thanks to Tina for the link to Leopold's 1938 speech in Columbia. I have added the link to the blog.