Monday, July 02, 2007

Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire by Marybeth Loriecki

For years I have read quotations by Aldo Leopold on signs in woods and nature preserves, especially in Wisconsin. I knew only that he was a naturalist famous for his book A Sand Country Almanac. That book is still on my to read list, especially now that I have read Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire by Marybeth Lorbiecki.

Leopold (1887-1948) was a controversial figure in his day. When he started working as a forest ranger in 1909, he agreed with the United States Forest Service pro-lumber and pro-grazing policies. He even supported the bounties offered by the various states to get rid of "vermin" that were supposed to be in competition with hunters for game animals. As he worked in remote forests in New Mexico and Arizona, he began to realize that the land was being damaged by the lumber companies and the ranching industry and that wildlife was in trouble. He upset many with his newsletters that argued for limiting private use of public lands and for the end of anti-predator laws. He eventually lost his job with the Forest Service. This is a complicated story too long to repeat here. You have to read the book.

Leopold struggled to support his family with his writing and his work for conservation organizations until he landed a professorship at the University of Wisconsin. His real fame came as federal policy changed during the Great Depression when drought in the Southwest created the disaster known now as the Dust Bowl. The Roosevelt administration hired him as prime advisor on the restoration of damaged lands. His work with the Civilian Conservation Corps was reported in national newspapers.

Readers will find Lorbiecki's biography of Leopold easy reading. She tells the story of his career in chronologically arranged chapters with only the most necessary details and includes many photos of Leopold, his family, his colleagues, and the locations at which he worked. She also liberally added maps and quotations from his books. With interest in the environment increasing, librarians will want to promote this book.

Lorbiecki, Marybeth. Aldo Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire. Helena, Montana: Falcon, 1996. ISBN 1560444789


laura said...

I think you'll like A Sand County Almanac. I'm about to request a copy of this book. Interestingly enough, there was another book about him published just last year, called Aldo Leopold's Odyssey, by Julianne Lutz Newton. I haven't read that one yet either.

Michael said...

I'm reading A Fierce Green Fire right now - almost finished. It's wonderful biography; strong on useful detail without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. My copy has rather poor quality illustrations but there are definitely plenty of them to support the text. I'm a Civilian Conservation Corps researcher and the coverage of Leopold's association with the CCC is a bit brief for my liking but this book is certainly a keeper.