Nature’s notebook

Connecting youth with teachings of Aldo Leopold, ‘father of conservation’

Group of youth at the Leopold Society.

“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.” — Aldo Leopold

The LandTrust for Central North Carolina has launched a youth initiative, the Leopold Society, named for the father of conservation, Aldo Leopold. The Leopold Society enlightens participants from grades 6 to 12 on the natural world and conservation issues. Participants develop conservation techniques, outdoor skills, and hands-on natural resource stewardship and service. The long-term goal of the Leopold Society program is to instill a lifelong love of nature in youth participants that will translate into positive action as adults.

But just who was Aldo Leopold? An American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist and environmentalist, Leopold is considered by many the father of wildlife ecology and the United States' wilderness system. He is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949). The book details Leopold’s “land ethic,” which calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature.

Leopold Society participants with a newly planted chestnut tree. Photo courtesy LandTrust for Central North Carolina

Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Iowa on Jan.  11, 1887. Even from a young age, he was an outdoorsman. He decided to attend Yale University to study forestry. His first job was with the U.S. Forest Service in the Arizona and New Mexican territories. He developed the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon, and he proposed Gila Wilderness Area, the first wilderness area in the Forest Service System.

In 1924, he accepted a transfer to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., and became an associate director. In 1933, he was appointed professor of game management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first such professorship of wildlife management. He lived close to the university with his wife and children, who followed in his footsteps as teachers and naturalists.

He bought 80 acres in the sand country of central Wisconsin. The once-forested region had been logged, swept by repeated fires, overgrazed by dairy cows and left barren, and it was there he wrote A Sand County Almanac, finished just prior to his death.

Much like Leopold’s Almanac, the LandTrust for Central North Carolina’s Leopold Society program includes a “conservation passport” with requirements for the participants to complete various activities related to the outdoors, such as hiking, paddling, hunting, fishing and orienteering, in their own “land ethic journey.”

This wide array of activities lets participants engage in many facets of conservation and outdoor recreation, developing their own relationship with the natural world.

Along with the skills developed, participants are asked to complete a service project. The project – such as trail maintenance, a school recycling program, a new hunter mentorship program, or gardens of native plants – can be completed independently or as part of a class.  As they complete activities, participants receive stamps and patches to recognize their achievements. Finally, the land trust hopes to award college scholarships to qualifying high school seniors who complete the program.

To learn more about the Leopold Society program, contact Michael “Mikey” Nye at michael@landtrustcnc.org or 704-647-0302.