Aldo Leopold award recipient will focus on personal reflections

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It isn’t Aldo Leopold’s groundbreaking science or policy papers that most people remember when they think about the renowned wildlife biologist, said Aldo Leopold Memorial Award recipient Wini Kessler. It’s his personal reflections.

Kessler plans to share some of these personal moments in not only Leopold’s career but her own during her keynote at the upcoming annual TWS conference in Cleveland, Ohio. She is only the second woman to receive the award, the highest honor in The Wildlife Society.

“I was humbled and delighted with the Aldo Leopold Award, and used it as an opportunity to go back and revisit books by and about Aldo Leopold that would be useful for the keynote address,” said Kessler, a past president of The Wildlife Society. “What really sticks with people are some of the ‘aha moments’ he had that changed his views and that made him think deeply about things.”

One of those moments for Leopold is documented in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes — something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Kessler will discuss some of her own “dying wolf” moments, including reflections on who belongs in the wildlife profession. Early on, she was challenged by those who didn’t think women belonged in the field. Through her experiences with inspiring mentors and people of all stripes, including colleagues with disabilities, she has seen the profession change for the better through inclusion.

Leopold’s writings and Kessler’s own “aha moments” were key in her service on the team that helped the U.S. Forest Service switch from an agricultural paradigm to a ecosystem-based management.

Kessler, who also spoke at the plenary during the first TWS conference on the subject of education, will revisit insights from Aldo Leopold and others that revolutionized her thinking about the purpose of wildlife curricula.

She hopes some of these messages will resonate with younger people or people going through tough times in their careers. “I’m hoping to pass along some of the inspiration I received from courageous colleagues, that helped put things in a bigger perspective,” she said. Among her favorite words of wisdom for challenging times: “This too shall pass.”

Header Image: TWS president John McDonald presents Wini Kessler with the Aldo Leopold award at last year’s annual TWS conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At this year’s conference in Cleveland, Kessler will present personal reflections in her career and in Leopold’s during her keynote. ©TWS