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Aldo Leopold 1886-1948

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Sunday, September 19, 1999

The 1900s have seen New Mexico grow from an out-of-the-way U.S. territory to a state known for science, sports, literature and the arts as well as for its unique cultural mix and brand of politics.
While many people have contributed in these areas, some have had a larger-than-usual impact. Some are known far and wide: Smokey Bear, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Unser family. Others might not have as high a name recognition outside New Mexico, but leave a legacy that helped define the state.
And in most cases, their influence has been felt far beyond New Mexico's borders.
Here is one of the 20 individuals or families who helped make New Mexico what it is today.

Aldo Leopold -- 1886-1948
Aldo Leopold worked in New Mexico forests for only a brief time, but his influence spans millions of acres.
Aldo Leopold


Leopold came to New Mexico as a young ranger in the Carson National Forest and worked his way up to forest inspector for the Albuquerque office when he heard about a vast stretch of untamed wild land in southwestern New Mexico.
Through persuasion, fueled by an ability to speak and write about the magic of the wilderness, the young Iowan sold his Washington bosses on a concept that was unique at the turn of the last century: That pieces of wild land should be set aside and kept untamed.
On June 3, 1924, three-quarters of a million acres of mountains, rivers and desert officially became the Gila Wilderness, the first area in the world to be managed as a wilderness area.
Anyone who has walked through a clean and quiet forest and slept alone in silence can thank Leopold, who went on to help found the Wilderness Society. The Gila Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness inside the Gila National Forest were the starting point for the modern wilderness conservation movement that has carved out pieces of quiet throughout the nation.
The idea of wilderness has always been a part of the human psyche.
To the ancients, the untamed landscape held terror.
And for the eons that followed, wilderness was a place to be feared or conquered.
But it was in New Mexico 75 years ago that the idea of wilderness took a dramatic turn -- it became a place to be treasured and preserved.
It was at the urging of Aldo Leopold -- who during the span of a remarkable career was a writer, ranger, ecologist and head of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce -- that the U.S. Forest Service designated the Gila Wilderness as the world's first officially protected wilderness area.
That was in 1924. Forty years later, Congress opened the way for more wilderness areas to be officially protected with passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. There now are about 103 million acres of federal land preserved as wilderness in the country -- more than half of that in Alaska.
In New Mexico, about 1.6 million acres -- or about 2 percent of the state's land area -- have been designated as wilderness.


Compiled by Fritz Thompson, Leslie Linthicum, Bill Hume and Dennis Latta
Compliments of theAlbuquerque Journal Online

 

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