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Making restoration history: reconsidering Aldo Leopold's Arboretum dedication speeches

Greenwood, David A.
Restoration ecology 2017 v.25 no.5 pp. 681-688
arboreta, ecological restoration, ecological value, ecology, models, scientists, universities, Wisconsin
Scholarship surrounding Aldo Leopold's involvement in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison, Wisconsin, has often pointed to Leopold's 1934 dedication speech as a significant historical artifact. While reflecting both Arboretum history and the development of Leopold's thought and influence, the speech may also have been the first publically articulated rationale for ecological restoration in the modern era. This scholarly personal essay describes my 50‐year relationship with both Leopold and the Arboretum, and my recent research that offers a new historical interpretation of Leopold's speech. Two versions of the speech exist; tensions between them have been discussed in at least two professional journals. What I learned from examining the archival record indicates that we really don't know for sure what Leopold said that June morning of 1934. What we can be sure of, however, is that the dedication speech usually attributed to Leopold, by such able scholars as Curt Meine and Baird Callicott, was not the one Leopold actually delivered. What many historians continue to refer to as Aldo Leopold's 1934 Arboretum dedication speech was actually written for another Wisconsin audience. As I explored this mystery, I rediscovered Leopold's passion for ecological restoration and his commitment to educate a diverse, Depression‐era public about its goals and purposes. For Leopold, restoration involved not only the expression of social and ecological values, but also public critique of the destructive social forces that make restoration necessary. Embodying social critique and ecological science, Leopold continues to model for us personal and professional roles as public ecological citizens dedicated to land.