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Aldo Leopold Wilderness: Ensuring a Legacy While Protecting “a Ruggedly Beautiful Country” Dietmar Schneider-Hector “The original southwestern wilderness was the scene of several important chapters in our national history. . . . It has a high and varied recreational value. . . .” It demands that “a good big sample of it should be preserved.” —Aldo Leopold, Journal of Forestry, 1921 Aldo Leopold Wilderness is a special place, perhaps sacred as well as inspirational, which protects “a ruggedly beautiful country” in southwestern New Mexico. This congressionally designated wilderness of 202,016 acres is managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which is also responsible for administering the Gila National Forest within which Aldo Leopold Wilderness is situated. The administrative histories of Aldo Leopold Wilderness and Gila National Forest are interwoven as a result of Department of Agriculture regulations and by public law. Administratively, Aldo Leopold Wilderness began as the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness Area (1924), then became the Black Range Primitive Area (1933), and finally emerged as Aldo Leopold Wilderness (1980). This long, arduous, and occasionally confusing administrative evolution explains the efforts to provide enhanced federal protection for a remarkable landscape and honor the legacy of Aldo Leopold, a wilderness philosopher and advocate. To understand Aldo Leopold Wilderness requires an understanding of the man for whom the wilderness would serve as a legacy. Iowan Rand Aldo Leopold, a Yale Forestry School graduate, arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory, on 2 July 1909 to await his initial assignment as a forest assistant in Apache National Forest, Arizona Territory. It was in Dietmar Schneider-Hector is professor of history at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces. Journal of the Southwest 51, 3 (Autumn 2009) : 379–402 Map of the Gila National Forest. (Courtesy of the US Forest Service) Aldo Leopold Wilderness  ✜  381 Apache National Forest where Leopold’s encounter with the she-wolf occurred, which he recalled so vividly in A Sand County Almanac many years later. Leopold had wounded the wolf fatally, and its slow death left an indelible imprint upon his mind. Regrettably, he had to destroy the wolf in order to learn to appreciate its role in nature. He did not realize the wolf’s significance until he lost it. A month later he became crew chief in charge of an inventory group in the Blue Range, followed by duties as deputy supervisor of Carson National Forest in May 1911, A young Aldo Leopold and Flip (supervisor John D. Guthrie’s dog) in 1910, beginning his career in Apache National Forest. (Photograph courtesy of US Forest Service) 382  ✜  Journal of the Southwest where he learned about grazing allotments, ranchers’ interests, and his own role in enforcing USFS policies. In April 1913, as Leopold returned home after an inspection of the Jicarilla District, he unexpectedly became quite ill. He had succumbed to Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment. After more than a year on unpaid leave, Leopold was reinstated and assigned to District 3 Headquarters in the Office of Grazing, where he periodically assumed the title “acting assistant district forester” whenever John Kerr, the assistant district forester , traveled the district’s forests. During this period Leopold became involved in the “wildlife” debate; however, professional disagreements with Kerr forced District Forester Arthur Ringland to reassign Leopold to investigate and develop recreational policies for the district. By mid-June 1915, Leopold investigated Grand Canyon National Monument, only to discover unsanitary conditions plaguing the area. For example, Grand Canyon was an unsupervised federal reserve where concessionaires and hawkers were a major distraction to the canyon landscape experience and campgrounds were unkempt and unsanitary. After his return to Albuquerque, Leopold submitted his findings to Ringland, then proceeded to work on game refuge plans as well as a game manual for USFS personnel. The subsequent publication of Game and Fish Handbook reflected Leopold’s primary interest, game management. Subsequently, Leopold led the crusade to establish game protection associations in New Mexico and Arizona. Leopold’s new endeavors led him to travel throughout New Mexico, preaching the gospel of game management (predators and varmints not included). He became secretary of the Albuquerque Game Protective Association on 19 October 1915 and later helped establish the Santa Fe Game Protective...


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pp. 379-401
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