The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Selected Articles from our
Spring 2011 Issue
The Real Aldo Leopold: Hero Or Villain?
By Peter Muller, VP, C.A.S.H.
Selected quotations of Aldo Leopold have been disturbingly embraced by
some people in the animal protection and green movements who value
individual animals in the wild. With the exception of game agents who revere
Leopold, the general public knows little about him. C.A.S.H. wishes to let
our readers have a fuller picture of Aldo Leopold. While he wrote poetically
at times and pulled at the heartstrings of many with his description of his
wolf killing, he was the single-most influential person to put our
government into the hunting business. He showed the firearms industry that
by funding wildlife management, they would bring billions of dollars to
their own coffers via the killing of wild animals for sport.
Aldo Leopold is considered by those who promote hunting within our
government as the Father of Modern Wildlife Management: The manipulation of
habitat (home, cover, and food) of game animals to yield a continuous
“harvestable surplus” of wild animals for hunters.
Leopold was born in 1887, in Burlington, Iowa, into an upper middle class
family. His family’s business consisted of manufacturing desks. His father,
uncles and family friends were hunters – not at all unusual for 19th century
Iowa. However, Aldo outdid them, enjoying killing at every opportunity. He
killed stray cats and birds in unlimited numbers. On one occasion, he
proudly wrote to his vacationing parents that he had shot “eight sparrows in
a few minutes.”
At 17, Aldo was sent to get an “Eastern Education” at the Lawrenceville
School, a college-preparatory school in New Jersey. While there, he wrote
home one day boasting about having shot 25 crows in one day.
Leopold later went on to Yale, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a
master’s degree in forestry. The Yale School of Forestry was oriented toward
teaching how to manipulate nature to suit human goals and Aldo became
Upon graduation, he entered the newly formed US Forestry Service at the
Apache National Forest in Arizona. His job consisted of accommodating the
local lumber and livestock industries in exploiting the forest by enabling
access to timber and by granting grazing rights to ranchers. He was by this
time sold on exploiting nature in the Roosevelt/Pinchot vein of wise use:
loving nature with a gun and an ax.
In describing the forest, he wrote, “Millions of acres, billions of feet
of timber, all vast amounts of capital.” While in Arizona, Leopold enjoyed
shooting wolves, mule deer and ducks. He was tolerant of local poachers,
suggesting to the forest rangers that they concentrate their enforcement
duties on occasional wealthy tourists.
While on extended sick-leave from the Forest Service (he had contracted
acute nephritis), he began thinking about maintaining wildlife in national
forests for hunters. He wrote to the Forest Service arguing that “an
abundant supply of game” could bring as much revenue as all the timber
receipts and grazing permits combined.
Later he was assigned responsibility for “recreation policy” in District
3 (New Mexico and Arizona) of the Forest Service. In that capacity, he was
responsible for turning the “great spectacles of nature” into tourist
At that time, he also began organizing the hunters of Arizona and New
Mexico into Game Protective Associations (GPAs), advocating through the
organized statewide GPA’s for the creation of areas where regulated hunting
was permitted and predators were subject to “wise control,” i.e.
extermination. He united ranchers and hunters in a common bond to eliminate
predators from areas set aside for hunting. He further started to get the
GPAs involved in political actions. When he resumed hunting, after his
prolonged illness, he boasted that “he shot fifteen ducks before 10:00” one
In 1918 he left the Forest Service to become secretary of the Chamber of
Commerce of Albuquerque. There he suggested draining the Rio Grande valley
to aid agriculture. He urged the adoption of a sustained annual kill of
wildlife just as there was a sustained annual yield of timber.
His views were, at this time, totally committed to the exploitation of
nature and wildlife as resources for human utility and pleasure. All native
species of animals that had some utility to mankind, such as enhancing the
hunting experience, were to be maintained to yield a sustainable surplus in
perpetuity. Predators: wolves, mountain lions, bird of prey and species such
as rattlesnakes were to be extirpated. To accommodate the farmers and
ranchers, which was vital to his suggested program, elk were not to be
sustained as a game species because of the crop damage they did to farmers.
Aldo rejoined the Forest Service and remained adamant about killing all
predators. By 1924 there were only 12 wolves in New Mexico.
He was having success in organizing the GPAs, and was approached by the
Sporting Arms and Ammunitions manufactures Institute (SAAMI) to research and
publish his theory of wildlife management for a perpetual sustainable yield
of game animals. In 1932 he finished his book, “Game Management,” which was
published in May, 1933. The first sentence reads: “Game management is the
art of making land produce sustained annual crops of wild game for
Just as when Leopold was a forester seeing his job as growing board-feet
of timber, he now saw his job as growing game-species for hunters. He saw no
conflict of interest in taking money from SAAMI. He was just doing his job
using natural resources for the benefit and pleasure of man.
There were, of course, at the time, other views of wildlife which held
that nature, wildlife and individual animals had intrinsic value. Muir and
Thoreau had certainly left their mark on the society, and both Muir and
Thoreau were opposed to sport hunting. Yet, Leopold’s biographers continue
to muddy the waters of environmentalism by intertwining his name with those
environmental greats who actually held sport hunting in low esteem.
In one of Leopold’s most oft-quoted passages from his essay, “Thinking
like a Mountain,” he is seen as coming close to repenting for his
human-utility approach to managing nature:
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her
eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something
new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and the mountain. I
was young then, and full of trigger-itch. I thought that because fewer
wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But
after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the
mountain agreed with such a view.
That passage has won the hearts of those in the animal protection
movement. However, it was a revelation at a time when the wolf was almost
extinct from actions such as his. The revelation was hollow, devoid of
compassion for the individual animal. Leopold would endorse killing wolves
if sheep ranchers demanded it.
Fortunately, fewer people are hunting than ever before. The numbers are
declining drastically with every new report that is published. Hunting is
heading steadily and surely for the dustbin of history.
There are multiple factors contributing to that which we’ve previously
written about: single-parent households controlled by women, hi-action video
and digital games, absorption with social networking, the animal rights
movement, the disgust of the public, shrinking lands and land access, and so
on. Hunting is truly a dying “sport.”
Peter Muller is VP of C.A.S.H.
Peter harvested most of the data in this article from “Aldo Leopold His
Life and Work” by Curt Meine, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.
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