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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 37 - Estella Leopold, Part 3

This is the third of four episodes of my interview with Estella Leopold, the last remaining offspring of legendary conservationist, writer and philosopher Aldo Leopold. This episode is devoted to Estella, her fascinating career as a paleobotanist that took her around the world and long commitment to protecting the environment and to mentoring students.

Estella here shares stories about her illustrious career as a palynologist, her work in Bikini Atoll, China, Colorado and elsewhere. She goes on to tell about her work to protect the environment, starting with the fight to save the Grand Canyon River from being dammed to her successful campaign to save the incredible Florissant fossil beds in Colorado, and her work to keep high-level radioactive nuclear waste from being dumped near the Columbia River in Washington State. It is especially noteworthy that the battles over Grand Canyon and Florissant were won before the passage of the majority of our environmental laws. What blew me away here was Estella’s integrative approach to conservation, which of course was in her genes.


"In the last year or two, I finally began to realize why Dad called me “Baby” my entire life instead of calling me “Estella, because and he never called me “Estella,” ever. Becausethere was only one Estella in his mind, and that was Estella Bergere. [Estella’s mother]"

"...We had a crow who was frequenting our backyard in Madison, Wisconsin. And Nina and I would look out the bathroom window in the morning, and there was Dad out there in the garden in his pajamas and slippers, digging worms for the crow, who was sitting there going “cawww cawww, I want to be fed.”

"Palynology has been a very fulfilling field because it permits you to work with the past, and work with climate systems and forest evolution, and lots of fascinating problems... And US Geological Survey was this marvelous source of marvelous people who knew the history of the areas, and the sources of sediments that were sort of special to determine their age and their content. A lot of good conclusions could come from that combination."

"After the Grand Canyon fight, we began to try and save the Florissant fossil beds which were particularly important fossils in Colorado. And they really needed to be saved because there was a threat from the summer home industry to park buildings on top of these beautiful fossil beds. And we started up our terrific fight for this Florissant... So the bills finally got through Congress that created a national monument, but it was six-year fight... I think the most important thing was... the press. We used print and radio and even television, and they would come and interview us and we’d take people from the Mountain Club or Sierra Club or whoever and the press with us to the field... And, we worked together, so it’s the coordination of a community effort that can get attention from the Congress and the decision makers."


Saved in Time: The Fight to Establish Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado by Estella B. Leopold and Herbert Meyer

Stories From the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited by Estella B. Leopold

A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold

The River of the Mother of God: and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold, edited by Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott

For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays and Other Writings By Aldo Leopold, edited by J. Baird Callicott and Eric T. Freyfogle

Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work by Curt Meine


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