Episode 197: Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant

Episode 197: Showing Up as Her Full Self for Wildlife 

Interview with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant

As a little girl, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant loved watching nature shows — and she paid a lot of attention to the humans that showed up in front of the camera. Not seeing anyone in the host position who looked like her as a Black woman, Rae made it her goal to become a wildlife ecologist and to help change the face of who holds the expertise and shows up for some of the most unique animals in the world. Today, she’s not only an ecologist, a conservation scientist, and a National Geographic explorer, she’s also so proud to be the voice of a new podcast from PBS called Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant.

Rae not only contributes to change through showing up as her full self she’s also dedicated to creating more equitable opportunities for young people to experience nature. She does this in many ways, most notably as the mother to two young girls and serving on the board of NatureBridge.

After 15 years as a wildlife ecologist and conservation scientist, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant has a lot of valuable life lessons to share, be it the way she looks back at her own career with compassion for her younger self, the importance of doing exactly what she wants to do with her free time, or the joy that is cuddling baby bears — just don’t try the latter at home!

Love She Explores? Help support the show by rating it here!

If you enjoy this episode, you might also enjoy this one on rehabilitating animals with Sirena Rana.

Find the episode below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you stream podcasts.

A full transcript is available below the photos.

Featured in this episode: Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant @RaeWynnGrant

Hosted & Produced by Gale Straub

A production of Ravel Media

Sponsored by Danner Rumpl, & Minus33

Join the She Explores Podcast community on Facebook

Visit She-Explores.com & Follow Us on Instagram

Resources

Sponsors and Discount Codes

Music is licensed through Musicbed.

Episodes air weekly on Wednesdays– subscribe wherever you listen so you never miss an episode. 


Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant

Rae Wynn-Grant holding another baby bear

Holding a baby bear in the field (experts can only do this!) photo by Peter Houlihan

Rae Wynn-Grant and lemur

Holding a lemur; photo by Peter Houlihan

Enjoy this episode? Rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. It’ll help other people find us. You can also share this podcast with a friend. Thank you for your support!

Episodes air weekly on Wednesdays – subscribe wherever you listen so you never miss an episode. 


TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Hi everyone, it’s Gale. A couple of quick things before we start the episode. First, I’m working on an episode on unique holiday traditions and would love to hear from you. So if you do something out of the box, indoors or out, you can either submit a voice memo or write it up. Learn more on She-explores.com/podcast or the page linked in the show notes. Also If you enjoy listening to She Explores and you have a moment to spare, please rate us and or write a review wherever you listen. It’s one way to support the show because it helps other people find it. Sharing with a friend is great, too. Thank you for being here.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores. Our guest this week, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, is an accomplished wildlife ecologist and conservation scientist, storyteller, a mother of two, a Black woman who is advocating for people of color in STEM, and so much more. But I, like a lot of people, first stumbled on her work by watching a video of her holding baby bears.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I want to say, that’s how I hook em. I’m like, that’s the best way to get people interested in my work is to show them, uh, you know, images of me snuggling baby animals, and yes, please don’t do this at home. Please don’t do it at all, unless it is part of your job. And it is part of my job. I’m happy to say.

Gale Straub – Narration:

You can add that into the perks of Rae’s multifaceted job.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I am a carnivore ecologist. That means I study big, large meat, eating animals, mostly mammals, and being an ecologist means I study the animal itself and how it interacts with its environment. And I, you know, I do this with a couple of different institutions. I’m proud to say I’m a National Geographic Explorer, and I’m also a researcher at the Bren school of environmental science and management at UC Santa Barbara.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Rae’s also the host of a new podcast from PBS called Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. It takes you with Rae, deep into the heart of the world’s most remote landscapes as she studies wild animals in their natural habitats. More on that later in the episode, though. First let’s hear from Rae on how she got started in her career.

Gale Straub:

And what led you to working with large carnivores? It sounds really intimidating. Just hearing you say it.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I know like large carnivores does that intimidating and they are, you know, like they are truly dangerous wild animals that I work with, but I often tell people like, well, you know, it’s also dangerous to be a firefighter or I don’t know a detective or something. So, you know, there’s folks out there who have these risky jobs, but I really got into it in an, what I think is an interesting way. When I was a kid, I loved to watch TV. We know it doesn’t. And my favorite things to watch were nature shows. I just loved seeing the jungle. And I remember being a little kid and I didn’t necessarily know what I was talking about when I said the jungle, but that’s like what I was seeing on these shows on television. And I didn’t necessarily understand that I was being introduced to a field of science.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I just knew that it was like fascinating and exciting entertainment. And when I was a kid, I just said, oh, I want to be a nature show host when I grow up. Like that seems like a great job. And then, you know, along the way, and, and quite honestly, it was when I was halfway through college is when I realized that wildlife ecology was a field that you could go into that didn’t just give you the life of a nature show host, but also had this larger purpose of, you know, understanding nature and the natural world and wild animals in an effort to continue to give them what they need so that they can survive.

Gale Straub:

When you were a kid growing up in California, were you aware of the fact that there were large carnivores living in your state with you?

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

You know what, that’s such a good way to ask that question. Was I aware that there were large carnivores living in my state with me because I, I, because the answer is yes, I guess I didn’t see them. I remember when I was really little like an elementary school, I think in sixth grade, cause a big excitement of being in sixth grade, at least in the public school system in the nineties is that we got to go on a field trip and we went on a field trip to Yosemite. That’s like a huge deal is even a big deal today. Somebody, you know, and we all went to Yosemite and I remember, you know, the whole class is there in the evening, we’re in some big cabin or a cafeteria or something having dinner. And I remember someone came into the building and said, everybody stay inside.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Nobody goes outside, there’s a bear in the camp. And it was like, well, there’s a bear. And everyone ran to the windows, you know? And, and I ran to the windows and none of us could see anything, you know, nobody saw the bear from the window at all, but we knew that it was out there. And so I guess that’s like kind of the only awareness I had a wild animals, you know, and living in a state with so much bad diversity was that one time on a class field trip, we were told a bear was nearby, but that’s, you know, I also grew up with a primarily urban upbringing and parents that took me and my little brother, you know, a lot of places actually kind of all over the world, but usually to urban places, you know, I didn’t have experiences recreating in nature. And that’s pretty interesting because now my life is quite different. I live in California. Once again, I spend about half of my time in the wilderness interacting with, you know, wild animals. And I can’t imagine it any other way

Gale Straub – Narration:

What we’re exposed to growing up can help us get a sense of what opportunities are available in our future careers — and when we’re off the clock. Another aspect of watching nature shows as a child that Rae has shared through National Geographic is that she didn’t see nature hosts that looked like her; she didn’t see Black people in that position of expertise. She sought out opportunities in college to see if she could move in that direction – if she could help change the face of expertise in her field.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

The first time they ever really interacted with or, or saw a wild animal, I was 20 years old and I was in the middle of college doing a study abroad program in east Africa. Essentially, I had been testing out different majors at my university and I had been a biology major. And I had thought about music and a couple other things. And then I landed on environmental science and I really didn’t like it. I thought I’d like it. And I ended up just hating it. I realized that, you know, a lot of my classmates who were super jazzed about environmental science had an understanding of nature and how nature worked beyond the textbook, you know, beyond like a PowerPoint presentation in the classroom. And I realized pretty quickly like, oh, I’ve got to get some experiences in nature. If I’m going to really commit to this major.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

And if not, I need to prepare myself for a mental breakdown. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. And so I signed up for this pretty intense wildlife management study abroad program that was essentially living in the Bush in Southern Kenya. And I remember literally on the first day, you know, flying there, landing and the plane with the other students and getting loaded into, you know, the trucks that took us from Nairobi into the Bush, you know, six or eight hour drive. And I remember just looking out the window and being able to see, you know, elephants and zebra and wildebeest and all of these amazing iconic African wildlife species. And it was quite literally just in those first couple of days of my study abroad program that I was like, oh yeah, oh, this is what I need to be doing. I made the right decision. Now I can see it. Now I can do it.

Gale Straub:

I’m so glad that you had the foresight to jump into a program like that. Uh, you know, it adds some dimension to what happens on the pages, because that is one of the, it’s always been a difficulty for me, just with science is when you don’t have that practical application. But thinking about that just at 20, you know, you’re still pretty young at 20 to feel like it might not be something that you’d want to invest your time and because you didn’t have those experiences, was that around the same time or was that then what you consider your first hike?

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah, that’s what it was. Yeah. That, I mean, I can’t emphasize enough how much that study abroad semester really impacted me because it, you know, I was a beginner for all these things. And I know, you know, I remember very clearly that the other students were not beginners. You know, everyone else like had the gear had been on the hikes, had camped all the things, but I like saw my first wild animal. I went on my first hike. I pitched my first tent. I, you know, put on my first like jacket, you know, like outdoors jacket. I had purchased my first pair of hiking boots ever, you know, in advance of this trip. And I remember in fact, like going shopping with my mom at an outdoors store and how like we walked in and I was like, whoa, like I’ve been to the mall, but I’ve never to one of these outdoors stores before.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

So yeah, for me, it all happened at one time and, and it wasn’t all amazing, like the seeing of wild animals was awesome, but taking my first hike was awful. You know, I didn’t realize that there were particular muscles that were required for that type of thing. And I didn’t have them. And I like felt like I was going to get completely left behind, but you know, here I am today and you know, it’s 2021. I’m in my mid thirties. I have two little girls and, you know, they’ve already gone on their first hikes. My daughter was two. When, you know, we went on like what I would consider a proper hike and I almost can’t believe it. And for me, it’s not necessarily important that my children become outdoorsy, you know, become people who have these lives exploring in the wilderness, but I want them to be able to choose whether they want to do that or whether they don’t want to do that because they have the experience. Not because they’ve been excluded from the outdoors.

Gale Straub:

Oh, absolutely.

Gale Straub – Narration:

In a recent National Geographic feature, Rae says that she feels so much more hopeful about the future…the future of wildlife, the future of the environment, the future of equity and justice and opportunity—because she’s seeing more people of color showing up in these spaces where she used to be the only one. I asked her to elaborate on this:

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

There’s so many different ways that I can kind of riff on that. But if we just take my life as a bear biologist, for example, you know, when I was doing that work, I was, as far as I know the only PhD level, black bear biologist, you know, male or female in the country, maybe in the world. And, you know, although I don’t know of many, uh, I don’t know of a single other right now, what I do know about are all of the programs rooted in universities that encourage the participation of black and brown and other people of color to become leaders in wildlife fields. And I’ll, I’ll use that as just an example, because it’s happening in the Marine space, it’s happening in the climate space, it’s happening and, you know, environmental advocacy and policy, there are institutions and programs that are being created to center and uplift the participation of black brown and indigenous groups, um, in this work.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

And so, you know, I know of quite a few people at the undergraduate stage, the master’s degree stage PhD stage, who are studying wild animals and who will become household names, you know, momentarily. And that is so awesome. And because of things like social media, because there has been a little bit more representation, a lot of us know of each other too. So there is, there’s a networking that definitely didn’t exist, you know, 10, 12, 15 years ago when, when I was, um, beginning my studies in this and it gives me a lot of hope and encouragement. Absolutely. And then, you know, if you just brought in this to even people who are spending time in the outdoors, you know, for recreational purposes, there are programs, there are, I, I could name quite a few. There’s, you know, Latino outdoors, there’s outdoor Afro, there’s black, outside there’s city kids.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

There’s a lot of organizations that are dedicated to empowering youth and, you know, and adults of color to understand and have access to, uh, outdoor recreation and, and to be celebrated along the way to, you know, find joy in the outdoors and safety there. And to my knowledge, a lot of those organizations didn’t exist when, you know, when I was a kid, which is something I could have really benefited from. And I think something that people, my family and my larger community could have benefited from. So that’s not to say that like, we’ve got it all solved and you know, there is equality here, but it is to say that that at least in the communities and the spaces that I occupy and the groups that I have an awareness of there is movement. There are people, there are individuals, there are budding leaders, there are some pretty awesome seasoned leaders out there that just a few years ago, weren’t there.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

And I’ve also, you know, had to take a lot of personal responsibility too. So there were definitely years where I would say, I’m the only one, you know, I’m the only black wildlife ecologists. It’s just me doing this and just be doing that. And I really had to change my language, you know, because that’s not true anymore. And it shouldn’t be, and it’s much better this way, you know, and I’ve learned that even at times, when I did feel alone, there is someone else out there we just weren’t connected. And, you know, and we, weren’t showing up at the same conferences, you know, when there’s only one or two or 10 of us, you know, we can’t all be in the same place or be aware of each other. So I have so much reason for hope. I’m so proud of all the folks who’ve had a rougher time than I have, you know, I’ve had a pretty rough time, but I know that I also had plenty of privilege along the way. And I feel so strongly that as a society, as a global community, we are moving towards a place where all kinds of folks will shortly be represented, safe, and celebrated in all kinds of outdoor careers and environments. And I’m just really, really grateful for that.

Gale Straub:

That’s pretty cool that you were able to communicate that message of hope in national geographic too. Cause that says so much,

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Oh my gosh. A dream come true.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Rae told me that when she was an adolescent, her mom said she could subscribe to a teen mag if she also read an educational one — a big financial investment at the time. She chose National Geographic, and now she’s not only featured in its pages, she’s a National Geographic Explorer. More on bears, after the break.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

You know, although I have some triumphant moments, a lot of my moments like being a ecologist, you know, doing real sciences, you know, not finding anything most days I go out looking for bears and I really do mean most days and most days I don’t find any, you know, maybe a Palm print here, maybe a claw mark there, but it’s rare that I actually come upon what I’m looking for. So it takes a lot of patients.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. Which feels a little bit ironic because your study is largely around how humans and these large carnivores interact with each other.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah. You know, I would describe it as interactions for sure. But also how humans impact, you know, carnivores Recology. So a lot of what I find is that, you know, the animals I’m setting are avoiding people and I look at it in all these different ways, you know, so definitely, you know, in terms of people like myself, you know, walking around in the wilderness, you know, I try to understand how let’s take bears, for example, how bears might start avoiding a section of habitat because of human activity that goes on there, even things like, you know, hiking with your dog. I look at how sound and light, you know, from human structures will cause animals to avoid certain areas. So it’s interesting. And, and you’re actually making a great point that I study both the actual interactions with human and bears, you know, are humans and carnivores are in the same place at the same time. And what happens then? And I study the opposite when these animals want to just get out of the way, get out of there because humans are impacting their environment in a certain way.

Gale Straub:

Uh, I do like the idea of, of that study of the inverse because we too often do move through the world, not thinking about the way that we’re impacting the more than human world and for you to have that study and put a bit of a spotlight on that. Hopefully it ends up ultimately impacting those animals in a positive.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. You know, a lot of the ecology work, I do, you know, generates results that are eventually given to conservation decision makers and policymakers. So, you know, that’s one of the things I love about science is that it informs policies, you know, laws, legislation, you know, projects. And so I like to think that someone in a big government office building looks at my data and says, oh, we need to do things differently over here. Or at least they have like a weight on their conscience if they choose not to do things differently, you know, in a certain place. One of the things that, again, that I love about the science work is that it’s impartial, it’s unbiased. You know, the results are the results. You can only measure something a certain way. And what people do with that information can be very, very biased, you know, but the information itself is what it is. And I, I like to think that a lot of good conservation work has come out of the work I’ve done and you know, many of my colleagues as well,

Gale Straub:

Have you done any research around the way that, you know, our behavior is resulting in climate change, which then impacts these animals like bears or, um, the other animals that you study?

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah, definitely. You know, um, and again, it’s not as much and I hope everyone knows this. It’s not as much the, you know, the behaviors of individual people or even communities of people, but it’s big groups and industries, you know, and systems and, and major governments, you know, that drive a lot of what’s happening with climate change. The United States as a whole, you know, uh, releases a lot of carbon emissions, the more me or you or our neighborhood recycles, isn’t going to make much of a dent in that. There’s a much bigger policies and industries that are driving that. And again, with that said, you know, please get an electric car, you know, please, you know, do all of these things, but there are faster ways to solve our problems than for individuals to feel guilty for how they’re contributing. But you know, another thing we can do as individuals is vote, you know, is influence our political leaders is put pressure on those decision makers to do the right thing.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Climate change is impacting people in a lot of ways. And of course, you know, to your point, it’s impacting the animals I study, you know, even here in the west with so many forest fires that are a result of drought that are a result of climate change, it’s really incredibly tragic. But a lot of the barriers that I study quite literally are, are dying in fires. You know, they are burning to death as a result of climate change. You know, there’s suffering that is going on in the animal community. And it’s really, really hard to stay motivated often, you know, and to feel like it makes sense to keep going when there’s these external forces that are just working directly against the work that I’m trying to do.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. An example that comes to mind for me is I think I saw it on Twitter back in, it was may or June, and we were having heatwaves and I live in New Hampshire and we were having heat waves and felt like we were having heat waves everywhere. And there was one in Tahoe and there was a video that some, uh, tours had taken of bears, like splashing and playing in lake Tahoe. And it was like, oh yeah, that’s cute. But it was also like, oh wow, that person was much too close to those bears. And, and they very likely wouldn’t have been out there at that time of day. Like if they hadn’t been so hot and needing to yeah. To have, so there was like this like real human animal interaction happening that, you know, might not have happened otherwise.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, that’s an example. I mean, I think that’s like a microcosm of so many things that are going on, but the main thing that it makes me think is, you know, like wake up, people like bears existed in Tahoe before people like, like bears belong in the Sierras. And, you know, if we use bears as an example, they existed in north America before people did, you know, they evolved on this continent thousands of years before the first person existed on this continent. You know, they were always here first. So I always, you know, I want to chuckle a little bit whenever folks tell me about like seeing a bear in an unexpected place, because I think to myself, like you should always expect to see a bear. Like they literally like everywhere is their home, you know, deserts, mountains, coastlines Prairie’s, but like it’s all their habitat. They’ve always been here. There was, there were, you know, a couple of decades, you know, in the last hundred years where not many of them are here because we hunted them and we deforest it and destroyed their habitat. But as our nation has done more of protecting the environment, bears have returned to their historic habitats. Although a heat wave in Tahoe means they’re splashing in the water. Like, please remember, you know, it was a bear vacation spot before a human vacation spot.

Gale Straub:

I feel like I don’t know what the title of this episode is going to be, but alternative title will be, it’s a bear’s world.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah, exactly. It’s a various world, honestly. They’re not in Africa though. They’re not in Africa. They’re not in Australia, unfortunately. So it’s like a bears, you know, five continent. No, yeah, no four continents, I guess they’re not an Antarctica either.

Gale Straub:

Oh, I love this perspective. It’s all, it’s also new to me. I’ve never studied any of this. I’m really an outsider. So I really appreciate it.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Absolutely. No. I mean, it’s, you know, I, I find it very, very interesting because sometimes people like us are grouped together, you know, as like folks interested in the outdoors or outdoors people. But something that I think is, is pretty funny and maybe fun is that, although I spend a lot of time in nature for work, you know, I hike I camp for sometimes weeks at a time, you know, I have all the gear I interact with wild animals and I love it. I do that all for work and in my free time and you know, my weekends and my vacations, I don’t do a lot of recreating a nature. I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever been on a camping trip with friends or for fun, you know, and I don’t typically go hiking and whatnot for fun. And I’m okay with that.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

You know, it’s just, I like to have a bit of balance too, which helps me continue to just love being in nature, you know, as part of my job. But I also, you know, like to go to brunch on the weekends and have a mimosa and go to the movie theater, you know, and do, do kind of, you know, urban city stuff. And because of that, I learn a lot from my friends and colleagues who prefer to recreate in nature. So, you know, I’ve been introduced to this whole community of athletes who do trail running or mountain nearing and all this interesting stuff. And I’m not super interested in getting a mountain bike, but I just really respect that we have this common interest of loving nature wanting to protect it, finding healing in nature, you know, wanting to break down barriers so that other people can access it.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, how exhausting would it be if you felt that you needed to do that in your spare time?

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Thank you for saying that because there’s a lot of assumptions and, you know, and honestly like the community that I work with of wildlife ecologists, a lot of those folks do, you know, want to just be in nature all the time and recreate a nature. And they find a lot of joy in that. And I think that’s really cool, but that’s not necessarily my interest area. And I think that part of it is because, you know, my social community is primarily an urban black community. And, you know, if I spent all my time in nature, I wouldn’t be spending a lot of time with the community that, that means the most to me, you know? So I really do, I think a lot about that balance and it often means that I miss out on some exciting adventures, you know, but at the same time I’m feeding my soul the way I need to. And it’s really nice.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear about how Rae is giving back to the next generation, and more, after this:

Gale Straub – Narration:

Earlier in the episode, Rae shared how she’s been intentional about taking her daughters on hikes at super young ages because it’s not an experience she got growing up in a city. She’s also paying this forward by working with Naturebridge, a nonprofit that helps kids experience nature through environmental science programs:

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I’m a board member of an organization called nature bridge. And the goal of nature bridge is to, you know, provide youth environmental education experiences, um, and all different ways. And they are just like the organization that puts together the very best field trips that a lot of public school students across the country get to engage in. Um, and they utilize the nation’s national parks to bring students in and provide them a really rich environmental education experience, you know, sometimes just for a day and, you know, often for overnight and, you know, several day long experiences. And I really appreciate that, you know, primarily because they do their best to target, you know, the public school systems and urban spaces. So really engaging kids that might not necessarily have a relationship with nature or might not have a lot of access to national parks and really rely on the school system or rely on some of these external organizations to facilitate an adventure in a, in one of our national parks.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

And I, you know, I identify with a lot of those kids, you know, I was a kid like that, for sure. You know, the only time I’ve been into Yosemite was at one time in the sixth grade, even to this day, you know, believe it or not. I feel very strongly that I represent a community of people who are in a similar place and the mission isn’t necessarily to, you know, again, create environmental protectors, but to allow children to decide whether they want to dedicate their lives or their spare time to environmental protection from a place of knowledge and experience. And that’s a type of leveling of the playing field that I think is really important. And so sometimes I work very, very directly with youth. You know, there were times that I am part of that educational experience either with nature grids or with other programs where I am watching kids as they’re having their very first outing in the forest. I mean, other times I’m, you know, kind of doing the larger thought leadership at a board level or leadership level to try to design better and more equitable experiences for kids.

Gale Straub:

What’s an example of a more equitable experience. Like what made, what could make their programming even more equitable than it already is.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Oh, sure. Yeah. So, you know, I could talk about this for so long. You know, you might have to cut me off, but when it comes to, like I was saying before, leveling the playing field, right, you really have to understand what a community’s needs are. So I can get very preachy, you know, in a lot of my institutions where I work, where I’ll let people know, you know, it doesn’t begin and end with giving a kid an experience in the outdoors. It’s not just bringing them to a national park and then saying here or fall in love with this, you know, if there are our social needs that a child or a whole community of people have those need to be addressed as part of an environmental education framework. So for example, hunger, you know, it’s going to be really hard to get a young person to fall in love with the national park, if they’re hungry, or if they face hunger.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

So that is something, you know, nutrition eliminating hunger antipoverty efforts really have to be part of all of our environmental protection work because supporting the people who can best protect the environment is where we need to start. And I think that a lot of times institutions can be fairly shortsighted when it comes to that. And that also brings me to, you know, the larger issue of systemic racism. You know, I’ve found myself very often, you know, reminding the groups that I work with that bringing black and brown and historically underrepresented people into natural spaces, you know, empowering them, training them, you know, lifting them up. All of those things are really great, but it doesn’t really make a difference if they’re going to be shot by the police and their car when they’re driving home from the national park. And that’s why I often, you know, tell my colleagues.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I think it’s awesome when you March for science, I think it’s awesome. When you marched for women, you gotta be out there marching for black lives too. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s comprehensive, it’s this grand approach, you know, eliminating social injustice is a key tool to protecting the environment. You know, the people who can make the most change have to be in good shape in order to make that change. I know for me, you know, even just speaking for myself, I don’t do good science work when social justice issues are, you know, more important at the moment. You know, when there’s grief, when there’s sadness, when there is injustice, when there are fights to fight, I’m not able to focus on the really important, you know, environmental leadership work that I do, and that doesn’t have to be the case. So, you know, I could go on and on, but essentially I really hope that people get the message that, you know, anti-racism, antipoverty, you know, all of these efforts, social efforts are also environmental efforts and they need to go hand in hand.

Gale Straub:

One thing that I noticed on your social media, it was that you were pretty intentional about sharing when you were pregnant and working as any colleges. Could you speak a little bit about that? Like why you wanted to share that? So people, uh, were aware of, you know, this kind of overlapping identities, because it’s just all ends up being, if you are a Venn diagram, it’s like your Venn diagram is essentially just, you know, it’s a ton of circles Infinity, sir.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah. You know, I, it’s so interesting. I was just doing a virtual event today with a woman who is, uh, who’s a scientist and a science communicator. And she was saying how, you know, when it comes to social media, so many of the women she’s aware of are much more likely to kind of use their social media presence to talk about social issues, you know, or to advance representation in some way, compared to a lot of male peers who are scientists or science communicators, who don’t do that as much. And so I find that really resonated with me because I was like, yeah, I’m always trying to like promote intersectional identities and people bringing their full selves to, to their work and making it visual because I, you know, for so long, wasn’t aware of this career path, you know, this career at all or the career path.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

But I think if I did have any awareness of it, of, you know, having a career working in nature, I definitely didn’t think it was for me, you know, and a major aspect of that was blackness. You know, it, wasn’t showing up, you know, represented in careers in the outdoors and women weren’t showing up. And today I really try to show like, okay, I have this career. It’s really dope, everyone to do it, or at least consider it. But also, you know, I am black, I’m female, I’m a millennial, I’m a mother I’m, you know, from an urban background, I got a late start. I don’t like to go hiking and camping in my spare time, but I do like to do it for work, you know, and as you were saying, like, there’s these continual overlaps of the Venn diagram, you know, and I hope I don’t like bore people with like this intersectional identity over and over again. But I, I do try to show up as much as possible as my full self. And also, you know, really try to break down some barriers or assumptions, you know, about women in any career, you know, or have any background and parenting and pregnancy and motherhood and what we can or cannot do, you know, and choice. That’s just me. I, I really have felt that as my social media presence has grown, like why not be fully transparently me,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Rae’s new podcast from PBS, Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant is another place she gets to shine. As I promised, you’ll get to hear about it now, and I really encourage you to listen in. We only have so much time with Rae and she has so many stories to share from her travels all over the world. A quick head’s up before this section, there was a pesky weed wacker in the background — I tried to remove some of it but life has a tendency to get in the way. Here’s Rae.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I am obsessed with my podcast. I have to give so much credit to the larger team. You know, the podcast is called Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. It is from PBS nature. It is just incredible. And I learned a lot, you know, the whole first season is stories from the field. So it is stories of, I mean, honestly like some pretty outrageous stories of things that happened to me in my last 15 plus years of living outdoors with wildlife, exploring the wilderness and having all these way insane adventures while training and being a wildlife ecologist. And a lot of the stories surprise people because although they’re about, you know, bears and lions and primates all over the world, they’re also about people, you know, they’re about like cultural misunderstandings I had or super embarrassing moments, or really like scary interactions. And I never thought, you know, would go down and, and also a lot of personal growth. So I think there’s this theme throughout the, the season of the podcast of my journey into womanhood, my journey into self-understanding, you know, my journey into really settling into my non-traditional identity through both like adventures in the outdoors, but also through misunderstandings, you know, and I’m living with traditional tribal groups and dangerous and calendars that I’m having. And so I, you know, I don’t want to give too much away, but I really encourage everyone to tune in and get a sense of what my real life is life.

Gale Straub:

It almost feels like, and I know you’re not that nature host that you watched as a, as a little girl on TV, but almost feels like you’re giving the behind the scenes story of like, what one might imagine life as a nature host is like, you know, in terms of the adventures and the growth. Yeah.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

Yeah. That’s what I’m hoping. And, you know, I like to think that other people are going to have a much smoother experience, but for me, there were just a lot of mistakes along the way. And I, you know, again, I had this larger journey of self-confidence even in recording the podcast and really going back and exploring some of my stories. I realized that, oh my gosh, you know, low self-esteem held me back from so much for so long. And I feel very fortunate that I’m in a place today where I feel pretty good about myself, but, you know, even just tracing my journey via the podcast helped really identify, you know, some moments where Ray of today would have done things differently, right? If today would have jumped on top of the giraffe, advocated for herself better, but back then that wasn’t the case. And so it led to, you know, a lot of, I’ll say a lot of interesting adventures.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I love this perspective. I think we can all apply this kindness to our own journeys. We can practice embracing ourselves today. Celebrating our accomplishments while applying a kind of retrospective grace for our past selves in the process. Rae wanted to leave us with these thoughts.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant:

I definitely remain on a journey, you know, learning about other people’s experiences. You know, I’m, I’m pretty well versed in my own experience, but I, as a person from a historically oppressed background, as a person, who’s faced a lot of barriers and, you know, a lot of difficulty in my journey in an outdoors career, I’m still also learning about other people’s difficulties, you know, and I’m definitely a lifelong learner when it comes to how to be a proper advocate, ally accomplice, for people from other target groups in particular, I’m really trying to get better rooted in understanding the needs of people from communities of differing abilities. You know, so what does access and equality and empowerment and leadership mean to people whose bodies aren’t able to do the same things as my bodies do in the outdoors. You know, when I, when I preach about hiking and camping and realize that not, not everyone is able to do that, but it doesn’t mean that they are not part of the outdoor community. So I guess I want to say that for the, she explores community, there’s such a diversity, you know, within this group. And I’m absolutely dedicated to doing my best, to show up for every type of person within this group. And I welcome ways to do that better, um, in ways to better serve this community. So with that, it’s such an honor to, to have this opportunity to chat with you and to formally be a part of your crew here.

Gale Straub:

Oh, thanks for modeling that that’s such a good reminder for everyone because we’re all just continually learning and, and on our own, you know, individual, but connected journeys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.