The Leopold Leadership Program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is the first formal effort in North America to train mid-career academic environmental researchers to communicate about their science with decision makers outside academe.

The program was created in 1998, led by Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology and Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University. Lubchenco, Harold Mooney and Paul Risser, all former presidents of the Ecological Society of America and leaders of its Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, often discussed their frustration with the "science communication issue" - that is, the lack of both training and professional support for environmental scientists to communicate their work outside of traditional academic circles, and especially within the public policy arena. With support from a Pew Fellowship in Conservation and the Environment, a planning grant from the Packard Foundation, and help and encouragement from several colleagues, especially the late Donella (Dana) Meadows, Lubchenco conceptualized the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and created an implementation plan.


The program moved to the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment in 2005. Pamela Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, was the Scientific Director from 2005 to 2013. Under her leadership, the program completed two strategic plans, one in 2007 and one in 2011, that resulted in new programming to help scientists link their knowledge to action on sustainability at local to global scales. The program’s advisory board included Charles Alexander, former International Editor of TIME Magazine; Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach, COMPASS; Ann Bartuska, Deputy Chief for Research, Education & Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Adam Davis, Partner, Ecosystem Investment Partners; Sharon Dunwoody, Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison; John R. Emrick, Trustee, Meyer Memorial Trust; Barry Gold, Program Officer, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; Estella Leopold, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, University of Washington; Jane Lubchenco; Katherine McCarter, Executive Director, Ecological Society of America; Harold Mooney; Vikki Spruill, President and CEO, Council on Foundations; Barton H. Thompson, Perry L. McCarty Director of Woods Institute for the Environment & Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law, Stanford University; and Diana Wall, Professor of Biology and Director, School of Global Environmental Sustainabilty, Colorado State University.

The program is overseen by an advisory board of past fellows chaired by two co-directors.