Feb 152012
Authors: Ricki Watkins

Natural Resource majors are continuously exposed to the writings of Aldo Leopold, who is considered by many to be the father of wildlife management. Though Leopold’s work and research was done in the early twentieth century, his words and observations are still used today in modern natural resource practices.

“Aldo Leopold was probably the most articulate communicator — he spoke and he wrote, and he taught — about the inevitable relationship people have to have with their home planet and with each other,” said Richard Knight, co-author of two biographical books on Leopold.

Now imagine going to classes and every professor ending lecture with a Leopold quote, knowing Aldo Leopold was your great-grandfather. This was the experience for Jed Meunier, a graduate student at Colorado State University seeking a doctorate in fire ecology. Meunier’s grandmother, on his mother’s side, was one of Leopold’s five children.

Meunier is following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, though that was not his initial path, nor was his great-grandfather’s legacy so apparent until he came to CSU. Though he declared a psychology major when he enrolled as an undergraduate, Meunier realized he was more interested in the natural resources.

“Slowly I took classes and realized this is what I like, this is what I don’t like and I got funneled into natural resource management and ecology,” Meunier said. “But I had a propensity for that and part of that is a certain familiarity when your family appreciates the natural world and ecology.”

Meunier did not fully realize Leopold’s impact nationally and internationally until his senior year at CSU ¬— with every professor incorporating his great-grandfather’s words into lecture.

“I was just blown away and it was just a real awakening,” Meunier said, “a real sobering experience for me.”

Meunier graduated CSU and went to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife ecology — the same department that Leopold himself had started at UW. Meunier’s master’s work revolved around the bird the American Woodcock. While researching, Meunier discovered Leopold had studied the bird as well and Meunier was using some of the same methods Leopold had used.

“I always stumble into my connections with Leopold,” Meunier said.

This was apparent throughout Meunier’s college career. After receiving his master’s at UW, Meunier returned to CSU to work on his doctorate. This was in part due to Richard Knight, human dimensions of natural resources professor at CSU, whose doctorate research focused on Leopold. Knight has known Meunier since Meunier was five-years-old.

“I was working in the Sierra Madre of Mexico,” Knight said, “and I took Jed down there to show him what was going on down there and he saw it as a great opportunity for his Ph.D.”

Meunier is now focusing his doctorate on the unique fire ecology of the Sierra Madre Mountain range.

“My dissertation is just looking at fire regimes where there hasn’t been these land use changes, where we haven’t suppressed all the fires and comparing them to areas where we have,” Meunier said.

While working on his research, Meunier came upon a paper wrote by Leopold in 1937, which Meunier said, “basically spells out my dissertation.”

Though it took Meunier time to realize the complete impact of his great-grandfather’s legacy, he said his aptitude towards nature has always been influenced by his family’s appreciation of the land.

“We have a responsibility towards land — it has been instilled in me from an early age, and it has taken me my own course to figure that out in my own life, but I knew about it and it was something that probably did direct me in the way I think and feel about things,” Meunier said.

Knight said he believes Meunier shows the same skills Leopold possessed and sees a promising future for him.

“Jed is not the only one of the kids, grand kids, and great-grand kids, but he is among only a few who has chosen to follow the footsteps of Aldo Leopold,” Knight said. “He is devoting his life and career to conservation … and he has all the skills that it takes: he is an excellent communicator, an excellent scientist. He is like his great-grandfather; he has a really nice blend of right brain and left brain, where the right brain is the emotive side of our expression and the left side is the analytical side of our expression.”

Meunier is not entirely sure where his path will lead him after he receives his doctorate, but hopes to do both research and academia.

The legacy of Leopold is not one unique and special to Meunier and his family alone, Meunier said.

“I think the most amazing part about all of it is that it is all of our legacy,” Meunier said. “We have these amazing people among us occasionally that really shape the world and Aldo is one of those and part of it is that he was able to articulate so well what we all feel and put our feelings into words.”

So great-grandson follows in the famous footsteps before him with the same task of conserving the Earth that makes life itself possible.

“We focus on material and monetary wealth but that wealth comes from something and at the end of the day it is a resource,” Meunier said. “It is our environment, we couldn’t have any of these things without our environment and if we don’t take care of it, well we might not have anything going forward.”

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