When the famed conservationist Aldo Leopold was a young ranger in the early part of the 20th century, he and some friends came upon a pack of wolves crossing a river. It was an era when killing wildlife was routine, and the group whipped out their shotguns and sent a fusillade of bullets at the wolves.
When Leopold climbed down the craggy cliff to claim his trophy, he watched a “fierce green fire” dying in the wolf’s 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,” Leopold would later write in his landmark 1948 book Sand Country Almanac. “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.”
That understanding, that animals have as much a right to exist peacefully on the earth as man, came to shape Leopold’s thinking and launch the modern-day conservation movement.
Now a Berkeley screenwriter and two directors have made the first full-length documentary about Leopold, which will have its West Coast premiere today at the Pacific Film Archive. Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic For Our Time will be shown at 5:30 and 7:30 pm.
The response to this film has been surprisingly strong. More than 1,000 people attended its premiere in Albuquerque, N.M. and hundreds of others attended a recent screening in Wisconsin, where Leopold lived. The 5:30 pm showing in Berkeley is already full, but there are still tickets available for the later show.
The film has numerous Berkeley connections. The screenwriter, Stephen Most, lives here. Two of Leopold’s sons went on to become professors in conservation fields at UC Berkeley. Luna Leopold was a hydrologist and his older brother A. Starker Leopold was a professor of zoology and a wildlife ecologist. He also established Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station north of Truckee in 1951 for natural science research and education.
Leopold believed that ethical rules should apply not only to the interaction of human beings with each other, but to their interactions with the rest of the natural world. The film conveys Leopold’s transformation and triumphs and examines how succeeding generations have put those concepts into practice. The filmmakers Steve Dunsky, his wife Ann, and fellow producer Dave Steinke hope to bring renewed attention to Leopold and his ideas.
“People in Wisconsin already know about Aldo Leopold,” Dunsky told the Baraboo News Republic. “I would say that’s not true for people in other parts of the country.”
The trio was also the group behind “The Greatest Good,” a film about the U.S. Forest Service. Leopold, an employee of the agency, was also in that film.
Tickets to the 7:30 pm screening will be available at the Pacific Film Archive box office after 5:30 pm.