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Venturing into hunting as a young adult can be intimidating at best—and frustrating at worst. If you were lucky enough to have a hunting mentor, picture being on your own to figure out where to go, what gear is worth the investment, how to follow all the local rules and regulations, and what to do once you successfully connect on a shot. Still, the hunting community is fortunate to have a fresh wave of interest from young people who want to hunt to eat.
These beginners are fortunate to have role models in Wade Truong and Rachel Owen. Together, Wade and Rachel founded Elevated Wild, where they share original wild game recipes, stories, tips, and inspiration for hunters who are just starting out. In person and on social media, they take pride in being conservation-minded ambassadors for hunting and field-to-table cooking.
Here is their story.
WADE: I fished as a kid with my family but didn’t start hunting until I taught myself in my mid-twenties. Food was the driving force for me—working in a restaurant kitchen made me intensely curious about pursuing food that you can’t buy. Now, I never feel more connected and purposeful than I do when I’m outside, pursuing the animals that I love. It brings me a sense of rootedness and contentment that I’ve never felt elsewhere.
RACHEL: I didn’t form a real connection with the outdoors until I was an adult—although I did a lot of camping and some fishing growing up, the rest of it was foreign to me. Wade had started hunting just a few years before we met, and it was talking about hunting and fishing that drew me to him. The rest is history: We started dating, I shot my first buck that fall, and we bought a boat together before we’d ever shared an apartment.
That boat has played a role in all our most outrageous outdoor adventures. Her comically small size makes everything we do a little more reckless and a lot more fun. It’s hard to narrow it down, but the most memorable might be one time we took her out almost two miles into the bay on a flat calm day to chase bluefish. We couldn’t keep up—we had fish flying over the gunwales almost faster than we could count them. Then the wind turned, and we had to hightail it back, our tiny outboard not quite pushing us quickly enough through the whitecaps. I remember briefly being relieved at seeing a dolphin, a good omen, until I realized it was longer than our boat.
WADE: My most memorable adventure was probably watching from 60 yards away as Rachel had a sika stag creep along the marsh edge minutes before end of light. The stag never left the thick cover until it was directly under Rachel’s treestand. She arrowed it at less than seven yards. It was the culmination of several unsuccessful trips out there and weeks of hard hunting over the years. Watching it all come together was something I’ll never forget.
RACHEL: What made that moment even more special was that it took place in our favorite part of the world—the Chesapeake Bay. I’d love to be able to go back in time to see this region right before European contact. To be able to see the Bay and coastlines teeming with the abundance of fish and game they once held, I’d almost be okay with leaving my rod or gun behind.
There’s no doubt that the Bay presents the biggest conservation challenge where we live. It’s one of the world’s largest, most productive estuarine systems. But we’re balancing the needs of one of the greatest treasures on earth with the demands and water quality issues of a rapidly growing population and an increasingly extractive commercial fishing fleet.
WADE: And the health of the Bay is a direct reflection of everything that happens upstream of it. Being so close to so many major metropolitan areas in several states, and having so many natural resources, it is uniquely vulnerable to pollution, overfishing, and development issues. The Bay is critical habitat for thousands of species of fish, birds, and other animals that rely on it for survival. Preserving wetlands, restoring water quality, and protecting forage fish from overfishing are incredibly important.
RACHEL: Conservation is important to me because every opportunity I have had to pursue wild game and fish, to actually participate in the natural world, only came around because someone had the forethought to make sure it was there for future generations to experience.
WADE: Everything I care about most has been shaped by conservation. The natural resources I pursue are all there because of conservation efforts. The places I find most special are all, in some form or another, there because of public and private conservation.
As an example, the idea of elk hunting seemed unattainable for me up until a few years ago. The travel, logistics, and expense just didn’t seem like something I would be able to pull off. Then I learned there was an effort to reintroduce elk into Virginia. I’d be thrilled with any elk, but now a dream elk hunt right at home is an achievable reality.
RACHEL: Conservation is about protecting one of our most precious national birthrights, the things that make us unique in all the world: the land, water, and wildlife that belong to all of us as Americans. These gifts, once taken from us, can never be returned whole. I believe it would dim the national consciousness to lose this wildness, because it is intrinsic to the American dream.
As most sportsmen and sportswomen know, a major conservation challenge that requires an even larger solution is the plight of the greater sage grouse. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem, which once spanned nearly 500,000 square miles across the Intermountain West, has shrunk by half, due to a variety of issues including invasive species, drought, land conversion, and development. These stressors have each contributed to population declines of over 95 percent and brought sage grouse to the brink of an endangered species listing in 2014.
The issue has been a political football in the years since, marked by court cases and management plan revisions, and all the while, Congress has included an annual rider in its spending bills to prohibit the use of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding for purposes of listing the bird as endangered. Ten Western states have developed sage grouse management plans across 65 million federal acres, but populations continue to struggle.
As any wildlife biologist or land manager can attest, the issues that threaten a species and its associated habitats do not exist in a vacuum—nor do effective solutions. That’s why the careful collaboration and negotiation of conservation measures for sage grouse on public land are not enough.
Fortunately, there are a handful of tools available to private landowners to boost sage grouse habitat. One, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, was created in the 2014 Farm Bill and has quickly grown into our nation’s premier public-private conservation program addressing resource challenges on a landscape scale. Based on its early popularity, the program was expanded in the 2018 Farm Bill and subsequently authorized at $300 million annually.
One of the success stories that brought Congress to invest in the RCPP in the 2018 bill was an effort underway in California and Nevada to ensure the future of the bi-state population of greater sage grouse. Led by the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, 11 national, state, and local partners have been working to conserve the bird since 2002. In 2017, those groups together leveraged $16 million in partner funds to secure an additional $8 million in RCPP dollars for habitat restoration on the California-Nevada border, an RCPP project known as “Livestock In Harmony.”
In the five years since this RCPP investment was awarded, the locally led partnership has made significant funding and technical assistance available to farmers and ranchers to enroll in agricultural and wetland easements. It has also carried out ecosystem restoration, optimized water use, supported outreach and education, and more.
The project wraps up in June 2022, and we look forward to seeing the progress made on local sage grouse populations as well as the surrounding landscape generally. As improvement projects have done for many bellwether species, restoration of sage grouse habitat will have far-reaching benefits for all sagebrush species.
Of course, implementation of the expanded RCPP hasn’t been without hurdles. The TRCP and our partners—some of whom are involved in project implementation—hear concerns about application timelines and costly requirements for the share of funds not being contributed by the federal government. Especially as lawmakers begin to develop the 2023 Farm Bill, it’s critical that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is able to get authorized funding out the door and onto the landscape now, or risk Congress providing a much smaller sum to the program in the years ahead.
For more information on the RCPP and other Farm Bill conservation programs, visit trcp.org/farmbill.
Top photo courtesy of the USFWS / Tom Koerner via Flickr.
A new video featuring Ryan “Cal” Callaghan of MeatEater highlights the importance of grasslands and sagebrush habitats for deer and other big game, as well as the threats to these rapidly disappearing landscapes.
Produced by the National Deer Association, with support from the TRCP and a coalition of leading conservation groups, the video points to the North American Grasslands Conservation Act as a much-needed tool for restoring healthy, intact grasslands that offer deer forage, cover from predators, and areas to raise their young.
The North American Grasslands Conservation Act is modeled after the highly effective North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has been successfully restoring waterfowl habitat since 1989. The new legislation, expected to be introduced this spring, would direct $350 million in funding for private landowners to restore and conserve what remains of the most threatened ecosystem on the planet—our continent’s shrublands, sage steppe, savannahs, tallgrass prairies, and shortgrass prairies.
Learn more about the coalition effort at ActForGrasslands.org.
Top photo courtesy of the USFWS / Tom Koerner via Flickr.
Washington, D.C. — The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to announce the hire of Dr. Jamelle Ellis, a long-tenured researcher and environmental health planner, as the organization’s new senior scientist. Starting today, she will help to advance science-based conservation in every aspect of the organization’s work.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Jamelle, who has demonstrated in her previous roles that involving, educating, and engaging diverse groups of stakeholders in environmental and land-use planning can remove barriers to collaboration, build essential relationships, and create lasting and effective outcomes for fish and wildlife and local communities,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Her expertise will benefit all facets of our work to guarantee Americans quality places to hunt and fish and ensure that we are pushing for meaningful federal policy changes that are rooted in sound science.”
Ellis previously founded and ran Empowerment Strategies, an environmental sustainability consulting firm, where she developed mitigation strategies and environmental science research models for public and private organizations. She has more than 20 years of research experience focused on environmental contaminant delineation, exposures, and human health impacts and has held engineering and science roles in academia and the public and private sectors. She formerly served as the technical liaison for remediation of hazardous waste at Department of Defense sites and has extensive knowledge of federal environmental regulations.
Ellis earned her M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Science from Clemson University and her Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of South Carolina, where she studied exposures to methylmercury through fishing and fish consumption. She will work remotely from her home in Columbia, S.C., where she enjoys bicycling, water sports, gardening, and going on new adventures with her family.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More