Aldo Leopold's Legacy - Restoration Ecology

On June 17, 1934 Aldo Leopold spoke at the dedication of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. He stood in the midst of, what was at that time, two square miles of derelict farmland on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin. Leopold's vision was embodied in the words of his speech:
"Our idea, in a nutshell, is to reconstruct, primarily for the use of the university, a sample of original Wisconsin - a sample of what Dane county looked like when our ancestors arrived here in the 1840s."
To realize their vision, Leopold and botanist John Curtis gathered plants from remnants of the native prairie, and carefully nurtured their growth at the Arboretum site. With the realization of their vision, the Arboretum became the site of something that once seemed impossible - the restoration of a native ecosystem destroyed by man. Thus, the Arboretum became the birthplace of the discipline of restoration ecology. You can still see the prairies planted by Leopold and Curtis to this day.
Nowadays, the practice of restoration ecology, is practiced by government agencies and even some private nonprofits (e.g. the Prairie Enthusiasts, a grassroots organization that has restored and protected more than 30 sites totalling 2,066 acres in Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois). But perhaps the best news these days from this field of endeavor is that it is being practiced by private landowners. An example to be found in Wisconsin is that of Kathie and Tom Brock. They have spent their retirement years restoring and tending to 140 acres of prairie and oak savannah in western Dane county. The land when purchased by them was worn out by grazing and farming. Now Red-headed Woodpeckers breed in the oaks and more than 300 species of flowers, some rare, have been recorded at the site.

In commenting on the embrace of restoration ecology by private landowners, Buddy Huffaker, the Director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, said this:

"Our perspective is that this is a movement that continues to gather momentum. What we're doing is not only building restored landscapes but reconnecting people to the landscape. We see an insatiable demand from landowners for wanting to do the right thing."

Heartening news indeed.

Before and after photos of restoration project



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