Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies | Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
Stanley (Stan) Temple is the Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and former Chairman of the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Program in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW–Madison. For 32 years he held the academic position once occupied by Aldo Leopold. He is currently a Senior Fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation. He has received major conservation awards from the Society for Conservation Biology, The Wildlife Society and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Among other recognition of his achievements, he is a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union, Explorers Club, Wildlife Conservation Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. He has been President of the Society for Conservation Biology and Chairman of the Board of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.
Although widely recognized for his book, A Sand County Almanac, and for his contributions to modern conservation, Aldo Leopold was also a life-long birder. A well-worn pair of birding binoculars was often around his neck whenever he was in the field. Leopold not only enjoyed bird watching, he also wrote some of his most poignant essays about birds and their conservation. He faithfully recorded many of his bird observations, providing important historical records that allow us to understand how birds are responding to such environmental factors as climate change. Stan Temple will review Leopold’s love of birds and birding and explain why his writings are so important for bird conservation efforts today.
Aldo Leopold, best known as the author of A Sand County Almanac, was a keen observer of the natural world. Throughout his life he kept daily journals recording observations of seasonal events, especially those occurring at his beloved “shack” on the Leopold farm which was the setting for many essays in A Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s meticulous phenological observations have provided us with an unparalleled record of when plants bloomed, birds migrated and other natural events. Comparing his observations of hundreds of natural events to recent records helps us understand how climate change is affecting the ecological community. One lesson of Leopold’s journals is clear: For those who love nature and take time to observe it closely, keeping records enhances the enjoyment and value of our time and effort, both now and in the future.
Aldo Leopold recognized that most of the land in the US is in private ownership, and private landowners would therefore have to play a central role in conservation efforts. Leopold knew there are many obstacles, among them: Maximizing economic returns from one’s land, exercising the privilege to do whatever one wants with private property, feeling no obligation to act in the public’s interest, suffering no consequences for abusing land, and simply being ignorant and unaware of how one’s activities affect land. Leopold struggled throughout his career with how to overcome such obstacles. What would it take to induce land owners to practice conservation in the face of inclinations to do otherwise? He observed: “We seem ultimately always thrown back on individual ethics as the basis of land conservation. It is hard to make a man, by pressure of law or money, do a thing which does not spring naturally from his own personal sense of right and wrong.” This line of thinking ultimately led Leopold to his most enduring contribution: his land ethic. Professor Stan Temple will discuss the evolution of Leopold’s land ethic and explain why it remains so relevant today for private land conservation.
Aldo Leopold is best known for his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, but the story of how that famous contribution to conservation literature came to be is unknown to most. Few know that the book had been rejected by several publishers who concluded there would be no readership for such a book. Leopold learned that his book would be published only weeks before he died in 1948, and he never saw it in print. It took almost 20 years for the book to finally gain an appreciative readership when the modern environmental movement emerged in the 1960s. Since then A Sand County Almanac has been considered the movement’s bible. Professor Stan Temple reveals dozens of engaging stories behind Leopold’s essays and explains why the book’s timeless yet timely message still resonates 70 years after it was first published.
For Aldo Leopold part of the enjoyment of being outdoors was experiencing the sounds of nature. His essays in A Sand Count Almanac make frequent reference to how natural sounds provide an important sense of place. But in the lower 48 states today, it is increasingly impossible to escape human-generated noise, even in places designated as wilderness, making it difficult to study or simply enjoy natural soundscapes. Preserving the natural sounds of a place may be just as challenging as conserving its plants and animals. By noting and studying the role of sound in the natural world, Leopold proved again to be ahead of his time. Science is only now coming to grips with the loss of natural soundscapes, the totality of the sounds of nature (much like the music of an entire orchestra) rather than the individual components of the soundscape. Understanding how nature’s “music” is changing and how much attention we need to pay to the sounds introduced by people are challenges. Professor Stan Temple will explore Aldo Leopold’s fascination with natural sounds, introduce the new field of soundscape ecology and share his detailed recreation of the dawn chorus of birds that Leopold meticulously documented at his beloved shack in June 1940.
Aldo Leopold identified “the oldest task in human history” as how “to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” For owners of private land Leopold knew there are many obstacles, among them: Maximizing economic returns from one’s land, exercising the privilege to do whatever one wants with private property, feeling no obligation to act in the public’s interest, suffering no consequences for abusing land, and simply being ignorant and unaware of how one’s activities affect land. Leopold struggled throughout his career with how to overcome such obstacles. What would it take to induce land owners to practice conservation in the face of inclinations to do otherwise? He observed: “We seem ultimately always thrown back on individual ethics as the basis of land conservation. It is hard to make a man, by pressure of law or money, do a thing which does not spring naturally from his own personal sense of right and wrong.” This line of thinking ultimately led Leopold to his most enduring contribution: his land ethic. Professor Stan Temple will discuss the evolution of Leopold’s land ethic and why it remains so relevant to the challenge of living on Planet earth without spoiling it.
At the beginning of his conservation career Aldo Leopold was a proponent of and participant in eradicating large predators under the naïve assumption that it would increase populations of popular big game species and protect livestock. But while working in the US Forest Service in Arizona Leopold observed an unexpected relationship between wolves, deer and forests on the Kaibab Plateau. He changed his thinking about the ecological importance of predators and famously wrote about his attitudinal shift in “Thinking Like a Mountain,” one of the most poignant essays in his book, A Sand County Almanac. Today, large predators are returning to some of the landscapes from which we deliberately eradicated them, providing dramatic examples of the important roles they play in ecosystem health. Professor Temple will review the history of Leopold’s evolving views on predators and discuss how his thinking should influence our current struggles to coexist with them.
Aldo Leopold wrote that “one of the penalties of an ecological education” was to live “in a world of wounds” that are barely noticed by most people. Leopold was hopeful that once we learned to see and understand the wounds that human activities inflict on nature we might be more inclined to do less harm. Professor Stan Temple will explore Leopold’s writings and discuss the four major categories of “wounds” that we inflict on nature: deliberate and inadvertent overkilling of species, deliberate and accidental introductions of invasive exotic species, destruction and degradation of natural habitats, and release of environmental pollutants that cause pervasive ecosystem stress. Aldo Leopold’s timeless ideas about our relationship with nature continue to provide hope that we may find a way to live on Planet Earth without spoiling it.
The publication of Aldo Leopold’s Game Management in 1933 marked a major paradigm shift in the field of wildlife conservation from “protecting” wildlife to “managing” wildlife based on insights from the then-emergent science of ecology. Leopold’s new approach laid out general principles that would inform management of “all species on all lands, rather than…procedures for producing particular species or managing particular lands.” The wildlife conservation profession changed after publication of Game Management, but so did Leopold. History shows that the field of wildlife conservation has been slow to adopt many of the newer ideas Leopold generated from 1933 to 1948 and continued to be guided by approaches described in Game Management. Professor Stan Temple will review Leopold’s timeless contributions and how they have continued to influence thinking about our relationships with wildlife and the larger ecological context within which wildlife exists.
Professor Stan Temple will discuss the complex history of how American thinking about conservation and our relationship with nature has evolved over the past 200 years. He will highlight key figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and Aldo Leopold, who each introduced new ideas that have shaped our American conservation philosophy. The question remains: Will we ever achieve the ultimate goal of harmony with nature?
In 2016 we marked the centenary of the “Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds” (the Migratory Bird Treaty, for short). The 1916 treaty became the cornerstone of our national commitment to conserve birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements the landmark 1916 treaty, and together the treaty and act form one of the oldest and most enduring bird conservation measures in the world. But threats to migratory birds today challenge the effectiveness of these milestones. Loss and degradation of habitat, collisions with human-made structures, predation by cats, pesticide poisoning, and oil spills cause the deaths of hundreds of millions of migratory birds each year. Are these century-old actions up to the task of protecting birds against 21st century threats? Professor Stan Temple will recount the first century of migratory bird protection and speculate about the future.
Populations of free-ranging and feral domestic cats have exploded recently, along with the demonstrable harm they do to native wildlife. Controversy has arisen about what to about the many problems free-ranging cats create, often pitting those who care about the welfare of both wildlife and cats against those who advocate for maintaining free-ranging cat populations through misguided programs such as “trap-neuter-return.” Professor Stan Temple, who has done pioneering research on cats and wildlife, will review the controversy, show where common ground exists and suggest solutions.
In recent years islands and sandbars along the Wisconsin River have hosted ever-growing numbers of Greater Sandhill Cranes as they prepare to depart for their wintering areas. Flocks of upwards of 10,000 birds converge on the stretch of the river above and below the Aldo Leopold’s Shack each fall. That’s a large proportion of the cranes that now nest in Wisconsin. Why has there been such an impressive resurgence in the crane population since Aldo Leopold worried about its impending extirpation 80 years ago, and what attracts all these birds to the vicinity of the Shack? Professor Stan Temple will review the remarkable recovery of Midwestern sandhill cranes, describe their migratory behavior and discuss some of the recent controversies, such as crane hunting, that have attended their new status as an abundant bird.
Early in his career Aldo Leopold recognized the role that roads and modern transportation play in the future of wilderness and the conservation of biodiversity. Leopold was a pioneer in the emergent wilderness preservation movement of the 1920s and 30s that was initially motivated less by perceived threats from industrial and agricultural developments than by concern over the impacts of the expanding population of automobile owners seeking recreational opportunities on new roads being built in previously wild natural areas. Today, there are 6.5 million km of roads in the US, enough to circle the Earth at the equator 157 times. No place in the lower 48 states is more than 35 km from a road! Roads are now the most extensive artifacts of modern civilization. Roads increase human use of areas, spread exotic organisms, cause mortality from road construction and collisions with vehicles, modify animal behavior, and alter the physical and chemical environments. Professor Stan Temple will review Leopold’s thinking about the environmental impacts of roads and how it may guide our approaches to minimizing harm.
The evolution of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic,” the idea that there must be an ethical dimension to our complex relationship with the natural world, is perhaps best understood in the context of Leopold’s assessment of the status of privately owned farmland from the 1920s through the 1940s. It was a time and place of many detrimental changes on an agricultural landscape dominated by owner-operated farms and ranches: mechanization, the Great Depression, drought, water and wind erosion, bigger farms through consolidation, fewer farmers per acre, changes in markets and the dawn of farm conservation initiatives. Today, there are again big consequential changes taking place on America’s rural landscapes where nearly half of working agricultural land (~400 million acres) is predicted to change hands in the next 20 years, increasingly not going to traditional owner-operators (the family farmers of Leopold’s time) who will live and work on the land and for whom Leopold’s land ethic resonated. Instead, farmland is becoming investment property owned by non-farming entities, where decisions are made by hired farm managers, and tenant farmers work the land. Professor Stan Temple will address whether these new land stewards, who may have less long-term stake in the land’s future health, can fulfill the obligations of a land ethic in the same way as farmers of Leopold’s era.
The Monarch Butterfly has declined by >90% over the last decade, and its future depends crucially on management practices on privately owned lands in the Midwest. Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” highlights the responsibilities of private landowners to care for the other species that live on their property, not because they are forced to do so by regulations or coerced to do so with subsidies, but because it is simply the right thing to do. Professor Stan Temple will review the Monarch situation and explain how Leopold’s land ethic will play a role in the butterfly’s future.
In 1914 the last surviving Passenger Pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo, ending a calamitous half-century in which the pigeon declined from billions to one and then to none as a result of uncontrolled market hunting and the resulting disruption of nesting colonies. The loss of one of the world’s most abundant birds stands as the iconic extinction event in our country’s history. Accounts by early naturalists, such as John James Audubon, describe flocks darkening the sky. In 1871 the largest nesting ever recorded occurred in central Wisconsin. That well documented colony of many millions of birds covered 850 square miles with nests in almost every tree. In 1947 Aldo Leopold penned one of the most poignant essays ever written about extinction, “On a Monument to the Pigeon” which later appeared in his classic book A Sand County Almanac. Professor Stan Temple recounts the sobering story of the Passenger Pigeon and what it can tell us about the ongoing extinction crisis and our relationship with other species.
Science fiction like “Jurassic Park” notwithstanding, throughout the 6-billion-year history of life on Earth extinction has been forever, but rapid advances in biotechnology and reproductive biology may soon make de-extinction feasible. This epic undertaking has many technical, ethical, legal and ecological implications for biodiversity conservation. Given many uncertainties and possible unintended consequences, how should we proceed? Professor Stan Temple will review progress and discuss the pros and cons.
Most people who have read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac know of the famous “Shack” he owned with his family alongside the Wisconsin River. What most people don’t know is that before Leopold acquired his Shack, he first owned a “Shanty.” Located on the banks of Missouri’s Current River near the Missouri-Arkansas line, the Shanty was purchased by Leopold as a quail hunting retreat after he and his brothers made a memorable float trip down the river in 1926. Intrigued by how little was known of Leopold’s connection to the Current River, Leopold Foundation senior fellow Stan Temple decided to retrace the 1926 float trip, guided by Leopold’s detailed journals. He will share the story of his and Leopold’s Current River trips, including his rediscovery – after much sleuthing – of the site of Leopold’s long-forgotten shanty.
Over 40 million Americans will go “camping” this year, escaping from their everyday life in cities for outdoor adventures in the wild while backpacking, canoe/kayak camping, bicycle camping, or RV camping. People, especially nomads and pioneers, have been living outdoors without permanent dwellings for ages; how did camping, as we now define it, shift from a lifestyle to a recreational activity? Professor Temple will review the development of recreational camping since its origins in the mid-19th century highlighting principal proponents such as Thomas Hiram Holding, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Henry Harrison Murray, Charles Dudley Warner, George W. Sears (”Nessmuk”), Horace Kephart, and Ernest Thompson Seton. How did automobiles change camping? How did the growing interest spark the need for camping gear? How did interest in camping influence advocacy for protecting wild lands? Are there limits beyond which camping in wild places becomes abuse? Should campers and other outdoor recreationists be more vocal advocates for protection of wild places?
The Nature Study Movement, an educational program that taught natural history and environmental ethics through direct experience with the nature, was enormously popular and nearly ubiquitous in school curricula from the 1890s through the 1930s. Aldo Leopold was exposed to Nature Study as a schoolboy in Burlington, Iowa, and it played a key role in shaping his life and career. One of the program’s exercises involved planting native wildflowers, an activity Leopold and his family embraced enthusiastically. Professor Temple traces those boyhood experiences to the pioneering role Leopold would later play in the birth of the new field of ecological restoration at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in the 1930s and the restoration work he and his family undertook at the Shack, the setting for Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac.