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Catch a fire with a film at the Botanical Garden

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 24, 2011 - "Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land," Aldo Leopold, "A Sand County Almanac."

Dan Burkhart's copy of "A Sand County Almanac" is tattered, falling apart, but he still has it. "It really struck me," he says. "And I've still got my original copy of it."

The book, written by Aldo Leopold, was published in 1949, one year after the author's death. According to the the Aldo Leopold Foundation, about 2 million copies have been printed since, with translations in nine languages.

Leopold didn't live to see the impact his words would have, but his message about conservation, the natural world and our relationship to it have only gotten more relevant, says Carson Main, an intern at the Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wis.

Leopold's journey to that message is told through the new feature-length documentary, "Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for our Time," which will premiere in St. Louis at 6:30 p.m. Friday Aug. 26 at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The film offers a chronology of Leopold's life, says Main, "but it also really focuses on why and how his life and his philosophy and his work are even more relevant today in the modern environmental movement."

Leopold began his career with the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona and New Mexico. Over the years, he worked on "A Sand County Almanac," and "The Land Ethic" was the finale to that work.

According to the Leopold foundation, "Published in 1949 as the finale to 'A Sand County Almanac,' Leopold's 'Land Ethic' defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement."

Considered the father of the American wilderness movement, Leopold also had an impact of the idea of working with private land owners for land conservation as well, Main says.

Early on, before he ever ventured into conservation, Burkhart was drawn into Leopold's message with the author's easy style.

That, Burkhart thinks, is a piece of where his own life is now. He and his wife, Connie, were the first to put a conservation agreement on their 220-acre farm near the Katy Trail, helping to start the Katy Land Trust.

"Green Fire" was made through a partnership with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the Center for Humans and Nature, and the U.S. Forest Service using archival documents, interviews, on-location footage and photographs. Among the experts interviewed for the film is Susan Flader (right), a professor emerita at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who is a Leopold scholar and has written several books about him and his work. Also interviewed were Leopold's family, conservationists, scholars and educators.

Those voices and the story of a pivotal moment for Leopold weave throughout the film, Main says. And while it tells one man's history, he says, the message of that history is even more relevant today.

Kristen Hare

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