Aldo Leopold was the first to use the word wilderness to describe the areas he wanted to be preserved in the National Forests. He worked in the Forest Service where he was tasked with killing predators hated by local ranchers. He came to respect these animals and promoted an ecologic ethic that replaced the ‘dominance of man’ thinking that came to the United States with the settlers, with an approach that recognized that the balance of nature required predators for a healthy forest. His efforts resulted in the world’s first designated Wilderness, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.
Leopold famously wrote in an essay, “Of what avail are 40 freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” In 1935, he helped to found The Wilderness Society (along with Robert Sterling Yard, Benton MacKay, Bob Marshall, and Harvey Broome) which is dedicated to expanding, protecting and promoting a wilderness land ethic.
Shortly after his death in 1948, a collection of his essays were published as “A Sand Country Almanac.” This book has been published in twelve languages and continues to be an important reference for modern conservationists.
More on the history of Wilderness next week.