August 16, 2023

Beyond the Bullet

An unfortunate discovery resulted in the author’s conservation passion

I didn’t grow up in a hunting or fishing family. However, like most kids in Montana, I spent a lot of time outdoors rock climbing, camping, floating rivers, and skiing. My mom bought me my first fishing rod and tackle box—Tweedy Bird themed, of course—which I took to Flathead Lake to catch perch in the sailboat marina while my dad cursed at the old rusty motor that never seemed to start. I tried fly fishing, and it quickly became an obsession of mine. But I never thought I would become a hunter.

In college, I spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house. There, his roommates frequently made nachos, steaks, burgers, lasagna, and other amazing meals from the game meat they hunted. While it was apparent that the romantic relationship wasn’t going to last, I had fallen in love with the taste of elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, and knew I needed to become a self-sufficient hunter.

After taking hunter education, I didn’t really know the next step. No one in my family or friend group donned an orange vest and headed to the mountains looking for deer. Fortunately, I was able to join the University of Montana’s Backcountry Hunters & Anglers collegiate club, which opened up so many opportunities. I attended a Hunting for Sustainability course at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, where we learned about hunting ethics, techniques, and my favorite part: how to prepare different dishes with game meat.

Through the BHA Club, I also met Mike McTee, a researcher at the MPG Ranch in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, who came and presented on the impacts of lead from spent ammunition on non-target wildlife species. I was still so new to hunting that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept, but fast forward a year and it would hit home.

The lead-poisoned golden eagle that Leonard found while hunting.

The following hunting season I joined a family friend on a moose hunt, a once-in-a-lifetime tag for him. After two days of only spotting cow/calf pairs, he decided it was time to take a break from moose and try to help me fill my deer tag.

We drove to a Block Management Area—a great cooperative program between private landowners and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks that provides landowners compensation for offering free public hunting access to private land. After hunting up and down several drainages, we had yet to see an animal. Not even a coyote slunk through the draws. We decided to head back to the truck and try a different spot, but as we crested a coulee, a golden eagle suddenly appeared in the sagebrush in front of us.

Surprisingly, the huge raptor didn’t fly away. We could tell the eagle was alert but could also see something was wrong. The talons were clenched, and wings drooped forward. The bird was in trouble, and while I’m not a biologist, I knew enough to understand that this eagle would not survive if we left it there. Assuming the bird had been electrocuted by the power lines above us, I found the number for Wild Skies Raptor Center and called the wildlife rescue organization.

The founder, Brooke Tanner, answered the phone and instructed us on how to capture the bird and bring it safely to her center. We grabbed one of our hunting coats and slowly approached the bird. It made a feeble attempt to wobble away, then froze as we tossed the coat over the frail body. The eagle was so weak it didn’t fight back or even jostle was we scooped it up and drove to the house to place it in a dog kennel for safe transport to the rehabbers. I had never seen an eagle up close like that before, let alone held one.

After delivering the eagle to Brooke, she called me a few hours later to explain that the eagle was suffering from lead poisoning.

“Lead poisoning!?” I exclaimed. “Eagles aren’t licking lead paint off old barns!”

Lead bullet fragments.

Brooke then reminded me of what Mike McTee had said a year prior—when a hunter shoots an animal with a lead bullet, that bullet shatters into hundreds of tiny fragments. Those fragments end up in gut piles that scavengers, like golden eagles, take as a free meal. Like me, eagles enjoy the bounty of a successful harvest, however when eagles eat gut piles seasoned with lead fragments, the poison can result in a plethora of issues, including weakness, clenched talons, muscle wasting, blindness, and death.

I was floored. I had a lead bullet chambered when I found the eagle.

Brooke also explained to me that there are alternatives to lead bullets that I should investigate. I quickly found that copper bullets don’t fragment like lead, perform at a high-level, and leave a clean gut pile for scavengers. For me, this was a no-brainer transition.

Unfortunately, the golden eagle died two days later. The raptor was too far gone when we arrived to survive chelation, the treatment used on lead-poisoned birds.

This experience led me to my current profession. I’m now the Program Director for a Wyoming-based educational initiative, Sporting Lead-Free. Our mission is to encourage the voluntary use of lead-free ammunition and fishing tackle in the field and promote the conservation ethics of our sporting communities.

As hunters, we have the responsibility not only to the animals we harvest in the field, but to what happens beyond the bullet. Making the voluntary choice to switch to lead-free ammunition when we harvest our game will not only help non-target wildlife like eagles, but also removes one more point of attack on hunting.

Visit www.sportingleadfree.org to learn more about who we are, what we do, and find resources to help you switch to sporting lead free.

PC: Hannah Leonard

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posted in: Partners

August 10, 2023

Reflections on Mentorship and Conservation

The conservation community needs to lean into mentorship. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to engage with the mentorship cohort of Next 100 Colorado while on a conservation tour in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Next 100 Colorado focuses on workforce diversity across conservation and outdoor recreation, ensuring equitable access for all people, and using the outdoors to tell accurate, complex, uplifting and healing stories about Colorado lands. The mentorship cohorts are intended to provide community for underrepresented individuals in conservation as well as guidance for mentees who are within the first five years of their conservation career. The conservation trip took place on July 18-19 and consisted of five mentees and four mentors (or members) of Next 100 Colorado. 

The mentorship cohort tours the San Luis Valley of Colorado

On this trip both mentors and mentees were able to learn about the complexity and history of Spanish and Mexican land grants as well as private land conservation in Southern Colorado. On a ranch tour we were able to see conservation at a landscape level as the ranch was taking significant efforts to reduce fuel loads across the semi-desert shrubland to the montane forest ecosystems. This would help ensure that the next fire on the landscape isn’t catastrophic but rather beneficial. Fire has evolved with these ecosystems and during our tour we learned how indigenous tribes utilized fire to maintain healthy forests and create quality hunting areas for themselves. We ended the trip by visiting and camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was a first for many of the participants. 

The tour provided the opportunity to learn about the complex history of Spanish and Mexican land grants.

The experience was tremendous. It fostered camaraderie and community amongst the group as we broke bread together, learned about new people, and shared new experiences as a team. Together, we learned that a key to making any camping trip successful is being familiar with the tent you are bringing, and if you are setting it up for the first time, try to do it in the daylight hours. We overcame this obstacle together and left with the valuable lesson that there is nothing worse than setting up a tent for the first time in the dark. 

While reflecting on this trip, I have spent time thinking of all the mentors and influential individuals who chose to share their time and talents to help shape me and my journey. Those who guided me range from family members to teachers and coaches to coworkers. I can personally attest that conservation needs to lean into mentorship as it is a powerful tool for passing on knowledge, skills, and experience. As demographics shift in the U.S. it is important that our conservation community engage and provide mentorship to underserved communities so that future generations know the importance of protecting our natural resources now and for future generations to come. Currently Hispanic and Latino children make up 50% of the U.S. population 18 years old and younger and we need to be intentional in how we connect with them. 

Enjoying Great Sand Dunes National Park

Hunting and angling mentorship is important for introducing new people to the sport and our conservation ethos. It teaches the necessary safety and ethical practices while helping develop a lifelong passion for the outdoors. National R3 programs (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) exist to increase participation in hunting, shooting sports, and fishing and have a strong focus on mentorship.  To date, many states and organizations have implemented similar mentoring programs to help grow the hunting community as well. 

The stunning views of Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Two additional organizations that have leaned into mentorship are the Minority Outdoor Alliance and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. Together, they are engaging new and diverse audiences to build a multicultural upland hunting community. The Learn to Hunt experience is designed to provide opportunities for novice minority hunters to form strong authentic bonds in the field and around the campfire. These events provide knowledge, skills, and an introduction to hunting through education and interaction with instructors in a controlled setting.  The desired outcome is that participants gain the confidence and support they need to further pursue their outdoor interests and stay connected well after the event.  

As conservationists, let’s keep leaning into the mentorship challenge and extend the olive branch to our kids, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and greater community just as our mentors did for us. I encourage you all to participate in your state wildlife agency’s mentorship programs or take a mentorship pledge like I did this year with Pheasants Forever.   


posted in: Partners

March 21, 2023

CWD-Sniffing Dogs and Other Promising New Disease Detection Methods

Studies are ongoing, but these tests could bring us closer to identifying chronic wasting disease in live deer

Hunters are still celebrating the recent passage of the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act, which authorized a total of $70 million per year through 2028 to be split evenly between disease research and state response. But even before these dollars have hit the ground, studies on new disease detection methods are advancing.

Our partners at the National Deer Association have just highlighted three such studies that show we may soon be able to detect CWD-causing prions outside of animal tissue—including in scrapes, at feeders, and in deer feces—just a reliably as we can with tests on the lymph nodes of harvested deer.

The testing technology in all three studies is known as RT-QuIC (pronounced “R.T. Quick”), and it is different than the two laboratory methods that could be used on samples from your deer.

In the first study, a researcher from the Mississippi State University Deer Lab sampled 99 scrapes in a CWD zone in southwest Tennessee, and 55% of them tested positive for CWD prions using RT-QuIC. This is the first study to confirm CWD prions in scrapes.

The second, an ongoing study out of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Prion Research and Outreach, makes use of previous evidence that prions are effectively held by stainless steel and glass. Researchers positioned “sentinels” made of these materials around feeders in a way that deer would touch them with their noses or mouths, then swabbed the surfaces and tested the swabs using RT-QuIC.

They’re seeing preliminary success: After running tests in three states on CWD-positive captive deer herds, CWD-positive wild populations, and a healthy captive herd as a control, RT-QuIC testing found CWD prions at approximately the same prevalence rate as the known CWD-positive rate in those populations.

Finally, researchers with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the Wildlife Futures Program have recently made the first-ever attempt to train dogs to sniff out the difference between the feces of healthy and CWD-positive deer.

Two Labrador retrievers and a Finnish spitz scent-trained in a controlled setting using samples of feces from deer in both the early and late stages of CWD infection, and in field testing these dogs alerted on eight out of 11 positive samples. They falsely alerted to negative samples, as well, but significantly more frequently on CWD-positive samples.

The CWD status of the samples was known in this case, but if dogs were to be employed in surveillance efforts in the future, RT-QuIC could be used to confirm the presence of CWD prions when a dog alerts.

This science and its implications are extremely cool, so we thought you should know about it. As NDA’s Lindsay Thomas Jr. says in his article, “Good news is scarce in the fight against chronic wasting disease,” so it’s nice to have some to share. Check out the full story at deerassociation.com.

Click here to learn more about chronic wasting disease and what hunters can do about it.


Photo by Laura Roberts via Unsplash


posted in: Partners

March 1, 2023

Construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Has Begun

Last week’s groundbreaking ceremony marks the first milestone for this critical piece of the massive Everglades restoration effort

In a major milestone for Everglades restoration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has broken ground on the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, which will collect, clean, and convey water south to reinvigorate wetlands and estuaries in South Florida.

While the Corps builds the reservoir to store excess water from Lake Okeechobee, the state-run South Florida Water Management District is responsible for constructing a treatment wetland that will clean the water. Construction began in 2020 and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Together, these projects promise to reduce pollution, improve habitat, and restore the natural north-to-south water flows that once sustained the ecosystem.

In an on-site ceremony last week, many of our organizational partners were upheld as having played an essential role in advocating for the reservoir. Watch the video below for highlights and inspirational words from our friends at Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation.

This first step toward construction of the EAA Reservoir should be celebrated: Cleaner water and healthier sea grasses will benefit populations of spotted seatrout, redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass, and peacock bass when the reservoir is complete. Prevention of harmful algal blooms will also boost waterfowl populations and improve hunting and fishing opportunities.

But, as many said at the event, our work is not nearly done.

The TRCP is pushing Congress to allocate the funding necessary to complete this project and restore and conserve America’s Everglades. Take action using our simple advocacy tool to tell your lawmakers you support full funding and expedient completion of Everglades restoration work.

Photo by Captains for Clean Water

November 30, 2022

State Conservation Funding Program Is a Success Story in Pennsylvania

Get to know the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund that has improved key trout streams for future generations of anglers

It is written in our state constitution that Pennsylvanians have the right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. This overarching dedication to conserving our woods and waters is an attribute that many Pennsylvanians hold dear.

Over the last few decades, Trout Unlimited has worked to preserve and protect coldwater fisheries across the country, including here in Pennsylvania. This work couldn’t be done without the passionate efforts of volunteers and supporters and sufficiently funded federal and state conservation programs.

One such program is the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund, which was created in 1993 with near-unanimous support from the Pennsylvania General Assembly and an overwhelming referendum vote by the general public. Since the fund was established, it has provided state-level matching dollars for a variety of conservation projects, including land acquisitions, river conservation, and trail improvements.

Over the years, the Keystone Fund has helped to fund many projects that benefit anglers. This includes the creation of the Brodhead Creek Heritage Center at the ForEvergreen Nature Preserve, along the historical Brodhead Creek in Monroe County; fish habitat and streambed improvements on the Monocacy Creek in the Lehigh Valley; and land preservation and planning efforts to restore and protect Valley Creek in the Southeast corner of the state.

These projects, along with countless others, have been made possible by the strong combination of state dollars and local matching funds, which have increased opportunities and access for anglers, families, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts in an array of neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth.

The Keystone Fund has helped TU to further its mission to “care for and recover rivers and streams” for future generations, but there is still much work to be done in ensuring Pennsylvanians will forever have access to over 86,000 miles of streams. Vital dedicated funding must continue to further restore and conserve those stream miles through the Keystone Fund and passionate local partners.

Emily Baldauff is Trout Unlimited’s Mid-Atlantic organizer and a native of northeastern Pennsylvania.



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.

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