Macquarrie and Leopold

A Sand County Almanac and Stories of the Old Duck Hunters – a Wisconsin double-header.

“I must be cautious, but it is hard to even think about it without accompanying rhapsody. But maybe it’s not a bad thing to fall in love with a river.”

I’d like to take credit for this quote. I could say it describes how I feel about the Big Hole River, though many could cheerfully say it about many favorite rivers in many places. In this case, however, the author was Gordon Macquarrie, writing about the Brule River of northern Wisconsin.

Gordon Macquarrie was the main feature of a workshop on Learning from the Masters, and famous outdoor writers from the past, at the recent annual conference, in Duluth MN, of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

Unfortunately, Gordon Macquarrie is a name that’s relatively unknown among today’s readers, but, according to Keith Crowley, a Wisconsin writer and photographer, and a biographer of Macquarrie in his book, Gordon Macquarrie: The Story of an Old Duck Hunter, he was one of the most popular and well-read outdoor writers of his time.

Macquarrie, for his entire working life, was a newspaper reporter and editor. In 1936 he was hired to be the outdoor writer and editor for the Milwaukee Journal, and from there, besides his fulltime job at the newspaper, he wrote for all the big name outdoor magazines. Crowley said, “He was right up there with Havilah Babcock and Nash Buckingham, and others, the great writers of what is sometimes called, ‘The Golden Age of Outdoor Writing.’”

Today, he is usually remembered for collections of his stories about the Old Duck Hunters Association, Inc. (for incorrigible), though that barely touches the surface of his work.

Within just a couple weeks of taking over the Journal’s outdoor desk, Macquarrie took a drive to Madison, Wisconsin to interview Aldo Leopold, a naturalist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, the person often credited for developing the science of wildlife management.

Many Wisconsin hunters and anglers considered Leopold’s thoughts on wildlife management revolutionary. Nevertheless, Macquarrie consistently promoted Leopold’s philosophy of scientific wildlife management, come what may, occasionally ranting against the “ignorami” who opposed Leopold’s ideas. Macquarrie was downright angry at times, literally pounding his typewriter as he wrote his columns, sending a lot of business to the Journal’s typewriter repairman.

Macquarrie received an advance copy of Aldo Leopold’s landmark book, A Sand County Almanac, about a year before it was published after Leopold’s death in 1948. Keith Crowley had an opportunity to talk to Macquarrie’s widow and asked if she still had that book. No, she said, in 1954 their daughter gave him a new copy as the original was literally falling apart from being studied so much, and it went in the trash.

Gordon Macquarrie died in 1956, at age 56, but leaving a huge legacy of written work and his philosophy of the outdoors, and is also forever linked to Aldo Leopold, the founder of scientific wildlife management.

Fast forwarding to the present, after the conference we visited with our long-time friends, Keith and Josie. Keith is a retired wildlife biologist who keeps a close eye on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, and he’s saddened by what’s happened to his old agency since Governor Scott Walker took office.

It’s a microcosm of what’s happening at the EPA in many respects, as Walker’s appointees are seemingly methodically eliminating science and environmental education from agency missions, and gagging DNR employees from talking to the public, especially concerning issues such as climate change, pollution, or large capacity wells near vulnerable streams. The department has even made drastic cuts to DNR activities at the state fair, ending a traditional outreach effort that usually reached thousands of citizens in a few days.

Keith’s concerns are documented in stories from the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, reporting that Walker and the Legislature cut $34 million and 93 positions, because the department was doing “unneeded work on climate change, mine pollution and wildlife management.”

Aldo Leopold and Gordon Macquarrie must be rolling over in their graves.

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