Living a Land EthicWisconsin Land and Life
A History of Cooperative Conservation on the Leopold Memorial Reserve
Finalist, Midwest Book Award for Nature, Midwest Independent Publishers Association
Finalist, Midwest Book Award for History, Midwest Independent Publishers Association
Arnold Alanen, Series Editor
“A significant and important story about how a small group of landowners, inspired by Aldo Leopold, pioneered private conservation and ecological restoration. It offers an insightful reflection on what it means to live the ‘land ethic’ that is quite relevant to today’s growing conservation challenges.”
In 1935, in the midst of relentless drought, Aldo Leopold purchased an abandoned farm along the Wisconsin River near Baraboo, Wisconsin. An old chicken coop, later to become famous as the Leopold “Shack,” was the property’s only intact structure. The Leopold family embraced this spent farm as a new kind of laboratory—a place to experiment on restoring health to an ailing piece of land. Here, Leopold found inspiration for writing A Sand County Almanac, his influential book of essays on conservation and ethics.
Living a Land Ethic chronicles the formation of the 1,600-acre reserve surrounding the Shack. When the Leopold Memorial Reserve was founded in 1967, five neighboring families signed an innovative agreement to jointly care for their properties in ways that honored Aldo Leopold’s legacy. In the ensuing years, the Reserve’s Coleman and Leopold families formed the Sand County Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Foundation. These organizations have been the primary stewards of the Reserve, carrying on a tradition of ecological restoration and cooperative conservation. Author Stephen A. Laubach draws from the archives of both foundations, including articles of incorporation, correspondence, photos, managers’ notes, and interviews to share with readers the Reserve’s untold history and its important place in the American conservation movement.
For supplemental documents and video, visit the author's website here.
Hear a radio interview with the author:
“Laubach crafts a history of the reserve that surrounds a place that lives in the imagination of millions of people. Living a Land Ethic will appeal to those interested in whatever became of the mysterious land that inhabited Leopold’s beloved work [A Sand County Almanac]. It is an engagingly written account of collaboration between private landowners to preserve land in a fashion inspired by the ideas of Aldo Leopold. Highly recommended; all academic and public library collections.”
“Two generations after Aldo Leopold’s passing, his legacy lives on through his readers, his family, and his students, and through the policies he promoted, the organizations he shaped, and the ideas he fostered. But it lives on most tangibly in the many places he worked to conserve. And of these, no place was so intimately essential to his life and thought as the Leopold Shack and the surrounding Leopold Memorial Reserve. In Living a Land Ethic, Steve Laubach explores the many-layered natural and cultural history of the Leopold Reserve, and recounts the innovative efforts to protect and steward its diverse landscape. He shows us that the land ethic continues to evolve in the very place where Leopold conceived it. The land endures, and the story continues.”
—Curt Meine, author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work
“A compelling case study of the challenges and rewards in creating a sustainable landscape. One imagines it is the type of book Aldo Leopold would have written himself had he lived for another decade.”
—Mark Madison, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
“Aldo Leopold’s hallowed haunts along the Wisconsin River have been and continue to be a source of inspiration for generations. Living a Land Ethic is both a history lesson and a charge for all of us to think carefully about how we live upon our precious earth. Laubach’s retelling of this important conservation story illuminates how we can and should act as stewards of our land.”
—Jayni Chase, board member of Friends of the Earth
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