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Aurelia Skipwith Giacometto made history at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Now she’s breaking new ground for a small hunter-friendly conservation outfit named for former President Theodore Roosevelt. Giacometto, who was the first Black woman to lead FWS, has served since April as the inaugural chief executive officer of the International Order of T. Roosevelt. She’s one of three employees at the nonprofit, which in some ways she can fit into a carry-on.

“The organization is based where you find me,” Giacometto told E&E News in an email. “I travel about three weeks a month giving talks, engaging with youth and people in the field, talking with partners, and meeting with donors.”

Giacometto added that she does “not believe in a lot of staff” and that “our organization will grow organically and will add staff as necessary to accomplish our tasks and tasks.”

The former FWS director, who headed the 8,500-employee agency for about a year until the Trump administration departed in January 2021, pinpointed several projects atop her new group’s to-do list. With hopes of keeping the greater sage grouse off the Endangered Species Act list, the nonprofit plans on building a captive breeding operation that would release birds onto the landscape.

Another project will focus on the Louisiana black bear, which was delisted in 2016. Giacometto said the work will “improve habitat connectivity” and focus on “genetic population density testing and research.”

Giacometto identified a third project as “conservation education and accessibility for youth shooting, hunting, and other activities.” This will include partnering with Outdoors Tomorrow for Education and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to expand a shooting range.

“Infrastructure and accessibility are consistent factors that constrain hunters and shooters and the recruiting of new youth and people to these fields,” Giacometto said.” We are addressing that by teaching conservation and then building infrastructure to apply what they have learned into practice.”

Overall, said the president of the new organization’s board, businessman Wesley Bates, the group will “accept the challenges to bring back species on the brink of extinction, to educate youth about their heritage and the importance of ensuring that our wildlife and their habitats persist into the future.” Bates is a member of the Central Ohio Chapter of Safari Club International and a life member of the National Rifle Association. The organizational biographies of the other 13 board members likewise identify most of them as members of various hunting and shooting sports groups.

The organization’s website notes, as well, that “the Order is continuing the tradition of hosting an annual convention, formerly known as the Shikar Safari Club International Foundation’s Fundraiser, to raise awareness and support” for major preservation projects.

“My grandfather hunted everything: rabbits, squirrels, deer. And he taught me that if you did not grow it, catch it, or kill it, then you didn’t eat it,” Giacometto said. “That is my heritage.”

A 2003 graduate of Howard University, Skipwith earned a master’s degree in molecular genetics from Purdue University and a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Skipwith subsequently worked for Monsanto Co. for about six years and rose to the position of sustainable agriculture partnership manager for the giant seed and agrichemical company.

Initially nominated for the top Fish and Wildlife Service post in October 2018, she was confirmed by the Senate in December 2019 by a 52-39 vote. Critics tried to sink her with questions about her qualifications, contending that she lacked the usual expertise in fish and wildlife matters (Greenwire, Oct. 18, 2019).

While at the Fish and Wildlife Service, she emphasized priories including the expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities at national wildlife refuges.

Now, in her current position, she’s staying on the road. In May, she traveled to Wyoming to check out a greater sage grouse captive breeding program at the Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds farm. The trip included a visit to a nearby lek for her first in-person witnessing of sage grouse behavior. “Sage grouse populations were a huge topic at the Department of the Interior,” Giacometto told the Powell Tribune. “We were constantly evaluating numbers and trying to figure out if [the species] was going to be listed and what we could possibly do to prevent that.”

Hundreds of thousands of acres of sage grouse habitat are lost annually due to a combination of severe drought, catastrophic wildfires, and the spread of invasive plant species (Greenwire, May 9).

Further afield, Giacometto said her new group is partnering with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation to boost the number of canines and their handlers in the African field to address the poaching of ivory from elephants and rhinos, and the poaching of other endangered species.

The International Order of T. Roosevelt has also identified the Roosevelt elk, the largest of the four remaining North American elk subspecies, as a conservation priority on behalf of which the new organization can pitch in. “We are small but fierce,” Giacometto said.

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