Aldo Leopold's Children

June 21, 2013, 2:01 pm

This article is part of the Aldo Leopold Collection.

Aldo Leopold and his wife Estella (Bergere) raised five children, each of whom inherited their father’s deep curiosity and passion about the natural world, how it works and the relationship between people and the environment. As they grew up, they all participated in the ecological restoration experiment their parents undertook on the Wisconsin farm near Baraboo—nicknamed “the shack” for their accommodations there in a rehabilitated chicken coop.

The family spent school vacations and weekends at the shack planting pine trees, restoring native prairie grasses, cutting firewood and closely tracking and observing wildlife. All five children became respected scientists and conservationists in their own right, and three – Starker, Luna and Estella – were elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, a remarkable and unparalleled achievement for one family. In 1982, the children together established the Baraboo-based Aldo Leopold Foundation to “foster the land ethic through the legacy of Aldo Leopold” and to maintain and manage the Wisconsin landscape they helped to restore and that was made famous in A Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s surviving children, Carl, Estella and Nina Leopold Bradley, remain active in conservation and education.

A. Starker Leopold (1913-1983)

Like his father, Starker Leopold was well-known and well-respected for his contributions to the fields of wildlife conservation, education and public policy. The eldest Leopold child was born in Burlington, Iowa, while his father was on temporary leave from the US Forest Service as he recuperated from illness. Starker spent part of his youth in New Mexico, enjoying many hunting trips with his father and deciding early on that wildlife biology and management would be the focus of his work. He received degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Yale Forestry School before earning a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1944. Upon graduation from Berkeley he worked for two years as the Director of Field Research for the Conservation Section of the Pan American Union in Mexico. His continued interest in Mexico resulted in a notable 1959 book, Wildlife in Mexico: the game birds and mammals.

In 1946, Starker was appointed to the faculty at UC Berkeley as an Assistant Professor and began a 20-year affiliation with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology there, serving as director for two years the mid-1960s. He became Professor of Zoology and Forestry in the Department of Forestry and Conservation in 1967, and remained in that position until 1978, when he retired as Professor Emeritus. He was highly regarded as a gifted teacher and graduate student advisor, and made important contributions to the development of the curricula in wildlife biology and management and forestry, incorporating the concept of conservation of natural environments.

In addition to his work educating students, Starker also played a significant role in the development of public policy through his participation on various advisory boards to the National Park Service and the Interior Department over two decades. Beginning with his appointment to the Special Advisory Board on Wildlife Management by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall in 1962, Starker served on several advisory committees, often as chair, that were involved in many controversial issues. His leadership and influence led to important new policies for wildlife management in national parks and the move toward park management and conservation decisions based on biological and ecological considerations. In particular, a 1963 report titled “Wildlife Problems in National Parks,” but more commonly known as “The Leopold Report,” called for the preservation and even the re-creation of native natural landscapes and ecosystems, including the wildlife, with a goal of maintaining the parks’ lands as the first settlers would have found them.

As a scholar and author of more than 100 scientific papers and five books, Starker was recognized for his ground-breaking research in the fields of ornithology and conservation as well as wildlife management. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and received many other awards including the Department of Interior Conservation Award, the Aldo Leopold Medal of The Wildlife Society, the Audubon Society Medal, the Browning Medal of the Smithsonian Institution, the Fellows Medal of the California Academy of Sciences, and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

He died at age 70 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Berkeley, California, in August 1983.


  • Carter, L. J. 1980. The Leopolds: A Family of Naturalists. Science, 207:1051-1055.
  • McClelland, L. F. 1997. Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 624 pp. ISBN: 0801855837.
  • Meagher, M. 2000. A. Starker Leopold, 1913-1983. In National Park Service: The First 75 Years, Biographical Vignettes.
  • Riatt, R. J. 1984. In Memoriam: A. Starker Leopold. The Auk, An International Journal of Ornithology, 101:868-871.
  • University of California (System) Academic Senate. 1985. University of California: In Memoriam, 1985.

Luna B. Leopold (1915-2006)

Aldo Leopold’s second son, Luna, is widely credited with combining his training and expertise in engineering, meteorology, geology and hydrology to develop the scientific foundation for the field of fluvial geomorphology, the study of how rivers are shaped and influenced by their surrounding landscapes.

Born in Albuquerque, Luna was named for the Lunas, a prominent Southwest family from whom his mother was descended. Like his older brother, he developed a passion for the outdoors and the natural world under his father’s influence. After his father’s death in 1948, Luna took responsibility for the final editing of the collection of essays that became A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, published in 1949.

Luna received a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1936 and worked for a time with the former U.S. Soil Conservation Service before earninga master’s degree in physics and meteorology from the University of California at Los Angeles and a doctorate in geology from Harvard University. He joined the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1950 as a hydraulic engineer, and from 1956 to 1966, he served as the Survey’s chief hydrologist. It was during this time that he and his colleagues made many of the observations, measurements and calculations that would lead to the ability to connect a river’s characteristics, such as velocity, width, depth and suspended sediment load, to the formation and vegetation of the surrounding landscape. A seminal book on the subject, Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology, which Luna co-authored with M. Gordon Wolman and John P. Miller, was published in 1964.

In 1969, while he was still with the USGS, Luna was involved with two high profile issues that led to important outcomes and helped shape the future environments of Florida and Alaska. In Florida, he led a study that determined a proposed 39-acre airport on wetlands near the Everglades National Park would have serious negative impacts on the ecosystems of the Everglades. Although a much smaller airstrip was allowed to be built, plans for the large airport were scrapped ; “the Leopold Report” was credited with drawing attention to the fragility of the Everglades and the need to protect its ecosystems and is considered the forerunner of the Environmental Impact Statement. In Alaska, Luna was a technical consultant on the permit application for the planned trans-Alaska oil pipeline. His technical assessment of the original project proposal revealed potentially dire consequences for the surrounding permafrost environment, and he convinced Department of Interior officials to deny the permit, ultimately for several years, until the plans were revised to address issues specifically related to the unique tundra ecosystem.

After retiring from the USGS in 1972, Luna joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the Department of Landscape Architecture, where he taught for the next 14 years. He continued to write scientific papers as well as books for general audiences, including A View of the River published in 1994. He also was active in conservation organizations, serving on the board of directors of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law Institute.

In all, Luna Leopold authored some 200 articles and books, many of which remain widely used in teaching and field work today. His achievements were recognized during his lifetime with many prestigious awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science, which he received from President George H.W. Bush during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in September 1991. His other awards and honors include the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, the Distinguished Service Medal of the U.S. Department of Interior, the Warren Prize of the National Academy of Sciences, the Robert E. Horton Medal of the American Geophysical Union, election to the National Academy of Sciences, and election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the California Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science, posthumously, in 2006.

He died in February 2006 at the age of 90 at his home in Berkeley, California.


  • Carter, L. J. 1980. The Leopolds: A Family of Naturalists. Science, 207:1051-1055.
  • Pearce, J. Luna Leopold, River Researcher, Is Dead at 90. The New York Times, March 20, 2006.
  • Sullivan, Patricia. Luna B. Leopold, 90; USGS Hydrologist. NRCS This Week, March 15, 2006. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service)
  • The Virtual Luna Leopold Project.
  • Vita-Finzi, C. 2006. Memorial to Luna B. Leopold (1915-2006). Geological Society of America Memorials, 35:27-30.
  • Woo, E. Luna Leopold; conservationist shaped the study of rivers; at 90. Los Angeles'Times, March 10, 2006.

Nina Leopold Bradley (1917-2011)

A well-known and highly respected researcher and naturalist, Nina Leopold Bradley wrote, taught courses and lectured extensively about Aldo Leopold, the land ethic and various other conservation-related issues and topics. Up until shortly before her death at age 93, she was often interviewed by the popular media as well as historians, filmmakers and scientists.

Nina earned a degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin. Her early research with her first husband, William Elder, included lead poisoning of waterfowl in the 1940s, the biology of Nene geese in Hawaii in the 1950s, and the behavior of waterbuck in Botswana in the 1960s. In more recent years, she observed and recorded the behavior of wildlife and changes in the landscape in Wisconsin, adding to her father’s records and establishing a long-term research record of the area. She was the senior author of a 1999 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed these phenological records and demonstrated that climate change was affecting the region and its native ecosystems.

In 1971, Nina married geologist Charles Bradley (1911-2002) in a ceremony at the shack, and the couple returned to Wisconsin in 1976 after he retired from Montana State University. They lived on the Leopold Memorial Reserve, not far from the shack, and continued the work Aldo Leopold and his family began, restoring the landscape and maintaining detailed ecological observations and records.

The couple was instrumental in the creation of the Leopold Fellows program, which provided an opportunity for graduate students to learn and conduct landscape and restoration ecology research on the Leopold Memorial Reserve. The program resulted in more than two dozen publications in scientific journals as well as several master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. In 1982, when the Leopold children established the Aldo Leopold Foundation, Nina served as a full-time volunteer and, with her husband, helped establish many of the educational and landscape restoration and conservation initiatives that have become the cornerstone of the Foundation’s work.

After the Foundation hired full-time staff in 1996, Nina remained an active member of the Foundation’s board of directors, at times serving as chairperson. She played a key role in envisioning and fundraising for the construction of the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, a highly-acclaimed green building complex that opened in 2007 and serves as the Foundation’s headquarters, the base of its educational programs, and a center for Leopold scholars. Located on the Leopold Memorial Reserve property, the complex of buildings was constructed with locally-harvested timber (including pines planted by the family 60 years earlier) and generates as much electricity as it consumes. It received Platinum certification – the highest level available – from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Nina Leopold Bradley received many awards and recognitions, including an honorary doctorate in environmental sciences from the University of Wisconsin (UW) and an Award of Distinction from the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She was also the recipient of the Wilderness Society’s Bob Marshall Award and, on behalf of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the Society of Conservation Biology’s Distinguished Service Award.


A. Carl Leopold (1919-2009)

Carl was a well-known plant physiologist and his 1964 book, Plant Growth and Development, has become a classic textbook. He made a major contribution to the field with his discovery of the metabolic properties of plant seeds that allows them to withstand extensive periods of dry storage and still germinate when moisture is later replenished, a finding that is now used for the current method of medication for diabetes by inhalation of dry insulin. Most recently, he was the William H. Crocker Scientist Emeritus at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. Carl continued to broaden Aldo Leopold’s legacy and advance a land ethic through writing, lectures and interviews throughout his lifetime.

Like Luna and Nina, Carl was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the time his father worked for the U.S. Forest Service there. The family moved to Wisconsin when he was in grade school and his contribution to the family project of planting trees and restoring the native landscape would serve him well many years later when, in retirement, he established a tropical forest restoration program in Costa Rica, which he continued to work on for many years.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin in 1941, Carl served in the marines in the Pacific Theater during World War II, eventually earning the rank of captain. After the war, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in plant physiology from Harvard University. In 1949, he joined the faculty of Purdue University as an assistant professor of physiology in horticultural crops and rose to the rank of full professor within six years, building a reputation as an outstanding scientist.

In the mid-1970s, Carl served briefly as a senior policy analyst for the National Science Foundation’s Science and Technology Policy office, where he worked on food and agriculture issues. He then was appointed Dean of the Graduate College and Assistant Vice President for Research at the University of Nebraska, but stayed for only two years before moving to Ithaca, New York to become a Distinguished Scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, where his pioneering research was conducted. He officially “retired” in 1990, but remained affiliated with some research projects there.

In 1992, with the encouragement and support of colleagues, Carl and his wife, Lynn, founded the Tropical Forestry Initiative (TFI), a non-profit organization that runs a demonstration project for restoration of tropical forests in Costa Rica, on 350 acres near Domincal. The project continues to host students who do research projects and learn about a variety of ecological and biological processes associated with tropical forests. The initiative spawned the development in 1998 of a companion local community forestry collective that is dedicated to forest conservation and replanting multiple seedlings for every tree cut down. With more than 40,000 trees of various species planted since its inception, the demonstration site also serves as a nursery that supplies seedlings to local farmers and landowners. It also has a carbon offset program for individuals who wish to make a donation toward tree planting.

In addition to his work as president of the TFI, Carl was very active near his home in Ithaca, in New York’s Finger Lakes region. He was a founding president of the Finger Lakes Land Trust and a co-founder of Greensprings Natural Cemetery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, providing natural burials and a legacy of land stewardship. He was a board member of the Black Locust Initiative, an Ithaca-based organization that promotes the use of sustainably managed and harvested local black locust trees, whose lumber is highly rot resistant, for benches and use in other public structures.

Carl published some 200 scientific papers and five books on various aspects of plant physiology. He was elected president of the American Society of Plant Physiologists in 1996 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Agriculture from Purdue University and two awards from the Royal Gallician Academy of Science in Spain.

Carl passed away on November 18, 2009, at his home in Ithaca, New York.


Estella Leopold (b. 1927)

The youngest of the Leopold children, Estella Leopold was born in Madison, Wisconsin, after her father became the assistant director of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory. She recalls that as a teenager when she told her father that she wanted to study entomology, he bought her a botany book and a hand lens and gently pushed her toward the study of plants instead. She is now a professor emeritus of botany in the Biology Department at the University of Washington, with a distinguished career as a paleobotonist specializing in palynology, the study of fossil pollen.

Estella received a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin in 1948 before getting a master’s from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in plant sciences from Yale University in 1956. She then went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in its paleontology laboratory in Denver. Her scientific work there combined with her willingness to get involved in a major political battle were key to the creation of the Florrissant Fossil Beds National Monument, a 6,000-acre reserve in central Colorado that is home to one of the richest and most diverse deposits of plant and insect fossils in the world. In the early 1960s, when Congress failed to pass legislation creating the monument and development of subdivisions in the area seemed imminent, Estella led a group of concerned scientists and citizens to create an organization called Defenders of Florrisant, which was successful in bringing legal action to stop the bulldozers. In the meantime, Estella and her colleagues also worked to convince the U.S. Senator from Colorado at the time, Gordon Allott, that the unique area had to be protected with National Monument status; the legislation creating Florrissant Fossil Beds National Monument was finally signed into law in August 1969.

After 20 years with the USGS, in 1976 Estella moved to the University of Washington where she served as director of the Quaternary Research Center until 1982. She also was a professor of botany and forest resources from 1976 to 1989 and professor of botany and environmental studies from 1989 to 1995. During her career, Estella has authored more than 100 scientific publications in the fields of paleobotany, forest history, restoration ecology and environmental quality. Her research has focused on the use of fossil pollen and seeds to determine the regional history of climate change, origin of grasslands, desert tundra and forest types, as well as evolution of herbs and woody plant groups. She is known among paleobotanists for using fossil pollen from deep-sea cores to validate Darwin’s concept that atolls evolved from sinking volcanoes. She was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1974 and to the American Philosophical Society in 2000.

Like the other Leopold children, Estella has been an active supporter of conservation organizations, having served on the boards of Environmental Defense and the National Audubon Society and currently as an advisor to the Children & Nature Network. She also is an ex officio member of the advisory board for the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, a fellowship program that provides training for mid-career academic scientists in communicating science effectively to non-scientific audiences, especially policymakers and journalists. She continues to be an active member of the board of directors of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.




Barakatt, C. (2013). Aldo Leopold's Children. Retrieved from


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