by Sheila Julson
Childhood exploration, either through neighborhood parks, riverbanks or wildlife areas, can instill a sense of wonder and appreciation for all things great and small. So it was for Dave Scott, founder and executive director of the Earth Native Wilderness School. His youth was spent frequenting the wooded areas around Williamson Creek, in South Austin, along with his brother, Michel. The siblings spent hours observing nature, catching turtles and enjoying the outdoors. As Scott entered adulthood, he continued to immerse himself in nature while learning valuable outdoor and wilderness survival skills which he now shares with people interested in connecting with the wilderness and learning sustainable ways.
Scott’s father lived in South Fork, Colorado, and served on a search and rescue team. During Scott’s teen years, he frequently visited his father and participated in search and rescue missions. The experience taught him how to survive in the wilderness and helped establish his connection with the outdoors. “I learned problem solving and how to take care of myself in the woods,” Scott says.
He served as a military police officer in the United States Army from 1998 to 2003. While he considered a career in law enforcement, he felt a calling to pick up where he left off with his love of the outdoors. He studied wilderness survival skills at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School, in New Jersey, and later outdoor education and mentoring at the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State and P.A.S.T Skills Wilderness School, in Bozeman, Montana. The experience gave him the opportunity to expand his wilderness survival knowledge with like-minded people and develop a deep connection to the plants and creatures he came across. “What I really took away from the Wilderness Awareness School was a greater sense of community,” Scott recalls. “It piqued my interest in starting a program in Texas.”
Scott and his family decided to move back to Austin, and in 2011, he formed the Earth Native Wilderness School. He put all of his time and resources into getting the outdoor education school started. “My wife quit working full time, and we put all of our eggs in one basket,” Scott says of the school, “but that really motivated me to get it going.”
The school has since grown exceptionally, Scott says, and hundreds of children have passed through youth programs and day classes. The adult wilderness survival and self-reliance programs include day workshops, as well as nine-month intensives covering all aspects of tracking and survival skills.
Day classes cover wildlife tracking, bow and arrow making, land navigation and map reading, spear fishing, earth survival skills, friction fire, introduction to local and native plants, primitive cooking, shelter building and more. Scott says Earth Native is not a traditional “survival” school focused on apocalyptic survival scenarios; rather it emphasizes positive interaction with the great outdoors and enriching selfsustaining skills, and connections to nature.
Scott has noticed a larger segment of the population becoming interested in self-reliance and a deeper connection to the outdoors, from regular city dwellers to novice campers and hikers to outdoors enthusiasts. He notes that while some people enter a class not quite knowing what to expect, they leave with an increased happiness, some great knowledge, deeper connection and a new appreciation for the outdoors. “Children in particular are powerfully impacted after spending time in nature,” he says, “Their parents regularly send incredible feedback, saying their kids gain confidence after spending time outside. Adults leave feeling completely alive after spending the day in nature and gaining valuable knowledge of their surroundings.”
Scott further shares his expertise in his book, Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species, which he co-authored with Casey McFarland. The comprehensive, illustrated guide explains how to use feather type and shape, as well as color to identify the species that particular feather came from. “I’m not a traditional birder who goes out with binoculars, but we trackers frequently find feathers when we’re out, and I saw a need for a guide like this.”
Scott also gives talks nationwide and has shared survival tips on local TV news segments. He’s one of only 20 wildlife trackers in North America certified as a Track and Sign Specialist through the CyberTracker Conservation Evaluation System, an international standard for measuring track and sign field skills.
“We would like to continue growing programs and increasing sustainability efforts into projects such as sustainable building, permaculture, and other sustainable living skills,” Scott explains. “It all helps us build a deeper connection to nature and live more connected lives.”