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Randall Williams

November 4, 2021

In the Arena: Kelsey Johnson

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Kelsey Johnson

Hometown: Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. Currently in Bozeman, Mont.
Occupation: Artist
Conservation credentials: This owner of a 2% For Conservation-certified business (KRae Artwork & Illustration Company) uses her talents and professional success as an artist to raise money for organizations that work on behalf of fish, wildlife, and public lands

Kelsey Johnson is a Bozeman, Montana-based artist who uses oil paints and graphite pencils to depict the unique people, wildlife, and landscapes of the American West. Three years ago, she came up with the idea of a “Conservation Christmas” fundraiser, pledging a portion of her sales each holiday season to the TRCP. Throughout the month of November, $5 from every print sold, $10 from every small work, and $50 from every original will be donated by Kelsey to help support our mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.

We’ve been thrilled to have Kelsey’s support over the years, but we also just think she’s someone you should know! Here is her story.

I grew up with the typical, fondly remembered, but “soft” outdoor experiences: camping in the pop-up, dirty hands and s’mores, catching bluegills off the dock that type of stuff. My family volunteered at the animal shelter, we ate a lot of TV dinners, and I couldn’t have imagined becoming a hunter. That came much later, as I sought out a greater understanding of, and a stronger connection to, my food and the outdoors.

My story is pretty standard “adult onset hunting” fare. A move out West and a love of hiking slowly introduced me to folks who shared a passion for wildlife, nature, and physical activity. To my surprise, many of them hunted, and thus my mind was opened to the world of hunting and conservation. It’s been a fun, fulfilling, and educational ride ever since.

While it’s hard to pick out a single memorable experience outdoors, I enjoyed a very special moment this spring with my oldest brother, who joined my fiancé Seth and me for our annual turkey camp. Like me, my brother has also picked up hunting as an adult, and last fall had a tough elk hunt in Colorado, where they hardly saw any elk. On our hunt together, we all set up against trees facing a large clearing, waiting for gobbles.

After about an hour of sitting in silence, to our surprise a large herd of elk filtered into the clearing and slowly fed past us, coming within 20 yards or so. It’s not the craziest outdoor experience in the world, but it meant a lot to share the excitement of spending time so close to all those elk together. And to make it even sweeter, we both doubled on turkeys later that week.

Conservation is central to my life outdoors, because whenever I’m in the mountains or on the prairie, I’m reminded of how lucky we are to have these experiences. I understand how hard-won our model of conservation is. I also understand that it is a constant effort to uphold a well-managed system that allows for quality access and healthy fish and wildlife populations. So, I always feel fortunate and grateful for every opportunity to be outdoors.

Although there are many challenges facing our fish and wildlife today, the first that come to mind when I think about where I live are those of habitat loss and water use. In Bozeman, and I think across the West in general, urban areas are expanding rapidly. Much of the land that is being developed for residential and commercial use is historically wildlife winter range, migratory routes, grasslands, and other important habitats. The dramatic increase in population and the resulting demands on our water supply seem like massive challenges that will require us to come together to find long-term solutions.

At the end of the day, I simply cannot imagine a life without access to the outdoors. These freedoms are vital to me: to walk the prairie in pursuit of deer or grouse, to wander hills and coulees in search of antler sheds, to hike to a mountain ridge for the exercise and fresh air. These rights bestowed upon the American people are ours to protect, and it is important to take that seriously.

 

Follow Kelsey @k_raeartworks on Instagram and check out her work at kraeartworks.com.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

 

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: In the Arena

October 7, 2021

In the Arena: Gregg Flores

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Gregg J. Flores

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Occupation: Filmmaker and mechanical engineer
Conservation credentials: Making films that make an impact for conservation

Gregg Flores has been behind the lens for multiple TRCP video projects focused on water resources in the Colorado River Basin, and we’re very proud to work with someone with his talent and commitment to conservation.

For this and many other reasons, he’s someone we think you should know. Here is his story.

My dad, Gregg Flores Sr., was a passionate fisherman long before I was born and introduced me to fishing as soon as he could. I recall mainly using nets to catch catfish and bass in ditches adjacent to the Rio Grande River in Central and Southern New Mexico. I eventually discovered flyfishing and have since guided other anglers on many Northern New Mexico trout streams.

No one in the Flores family was hunting in the 1980s, but in 2015, I reignited that tradition when I applied for and drew my first deer tag in New Mexico. I didn’t harvest a deer until 2017, on a muzzleloader hunt with my younger brother, Michael, and that moment was incredibly special. The journey I had begun two years earlier to reignite our family’s hunting traditions had come full circle.

Sharing that moment with my brother meant the world to me, and bringing meat home sparked an interest in hunting that rippled throughout the entire family. I am proud to say that hunting is once again a large part of our family’s culture.

I understand and appreciate that some people love being in the wild alone, but one of the single biggest reasons I get outside is to spend quality time with my family. And conservation provides a sustainable way for me connect to the land, water, and wildlife with my loved ones. Those times are precious to me and absolutely priceless.

I have a dream of flyfishing and hunting in British Columbia. Wild steelhead and caribou AND moose? Yes, please! It would be a dream come true.

The Rio Grande, like the Colorado River and many other Western watersheds, is facing the devastation of drought and overuse. Saving these river basins is one of the biggest conservation challenges in our region right now.

I make a living using film and photography to tell stories that are focused on the connection people have to their loved ones and to land, water, and wildlife. That connection is impossible without conservation.

I don’t tell stories to simply make a living. I make an intentional effort to tell stories about people who care about the resource they are using and are also doing something to protect those resources. In my mind, these stories are slowly creating a legacy I can be proud to leave behind.

Follow Gregg @wheretheriverruns on Instagram and Facebook. Do you know someone In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

 

Randall Williams

April 26, 2021

In the Arena: Rachel Smiley

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Rachel Smiley

Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming
Occupation: Graduate Student
Conservation credentials: Working on her PhD on the interface between disease and nutrition in bighorn sheep

Growing up in Connecticut, Rachel Smiley never imagined that she would one day become a hunter. But a college course on wildlife biology put things in a new light and instilled an interest in acquiring her own game meat. Now a graduate student with the Monteith Shop research group at the University of Wyoming, Smiley studies wildlife ecology and has become a proud hunter.

Her observations about the information gap between hunters and nonhunters highlight one way that conservationists can expand our ranks and recruit new sportsmen and sportswomen.

This is her story.

 

I was 24 years old when I harvested my first animal – a white-tailed deer in northwest Wyoming. I sat with a doe in my sights for what felt like hours. Tall grass concealed me as I lay prone, mentally preparing myself to pull the trigger. Thankfully, the deer stayed broadside the whole time I contemplated the shot, just 50 yards away.

Shooting was the only part that made me nervous. I’d been researching ungulates—hoofed animals, like deer and elk—for a few years, so the other steps in the process came naturally to me: I’d tracked and stalked hundreds of animals and cut open plenty of dead deer and bighorn sheep to determine the cause of death. But, I’d never purposely killed an animal, and I never would have imagined that I’d become a hunter. As I sat silently, I reminded myself why I wanted to kill this deer.

For a long time, I was very opposed to hunting. Growing up, I didn’t know many hunters, but I didn’t think that was necessary to understand hunting. To me, things seemed simple enough: I loved animals and thought a sport centered around killing them was heartless. The widespread stereotype of the sloppy hunter was prominent in my mind, and I had heard urban legends of stray bullets hitting people, so I’d avoid the trailheads with lots of trucks and orange during hunting season. Complementary to my opposition to hunting was a vegetarian lifestyle that I adopted late in my teenage years. Eating meat was unnecessary, unsustainable, and an industry that I did not want to support.

So much of what is obvious to sportsmen and sportswomen about hunting never occurs to those who didn’t grow up around it, and my acceptance of hunting happened quickly once I learned more. Unexpectedly, a wildlife management class in college changed my thinking. I was exposed to fundamental concepts that I had never known or considered before.

I hadn’t realized that most of the funding for conservation comes from license fees and taxes on ammunition. For the first time, I began to consider how game meat offers a sustainable food source. I learned how deer overpopulation in some towns in the northeast was dealt with by sharp shooters, because there were not enough people hunting to keep deer numbers at a level that would prevent them from having a negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem.

With this new knowledge, I decided I would be okay with adding game meat to my otherwise vegetarian diet. At the time, I didn’t know many hunters, so the opportunity to eat game meat rarely arose. It took some internal debate and a couple of years to decide that if I was going to eat game meat, I should also be able to harvest it myself.

The possibility of becoming a hunter remained a hypothetical interest, until I moved to the West to pursue wildlife technician jobs and eventually a graduate degree in wildlife management at the University of Wyoming. Many of the people I met were hunters, and I tagged along with several, hoping I could help carry out the meat and become familiar with the process. An opportunity to hunt for myself came about on a lab retreat with my research group, the Monteith Shop. I was excited for the opportunity and overwhelmed with the possibility of turning my desire to hunt into reality.

With the whitetail in my scope, I was hyper-focused on the animal in front of me, but in the background, my thoughts replayed the change in my relationship to hunting over the past five years. I ignored the thought that my past self would be disappointed. Instead, I worried that I would make a bad shot (though I had practiced enough to know I wouldn’t). I wondered if I would feel sadness, guilt, or remorse if I did kill the deer.

Still, I was determined to push through the crux of this personal journey. I controlled my breathing and squeezed the trigger. I hit the deer in the vitals, it ran about ten yards, and fell to the ground. After a few seconds of not knowing what to feel, I was overcome with pride.
Since that first hunt, I’ve hunted pronghorn and elk and embraced this new aspect of my identity. I’m filled with pride and satisfaction whenever I open my full freezer, and I happily share the stories of my hunts when I make dinner with the meat I’ve processed. Without fail, my friends and family who knew me as a vegetarian are always shocked to learn I’ve taken up this sport.

My own personal story and numerous conversations with others tell me that the recruitment of new hunters doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. Perhaps most importantly, my experiences illustrate that we can’t take for granted that nonhunters understand what exactly it is that we do each fall, and we need to think carefully about the messages we’re sending. I encourage all sportsmen and sportswomen to be open-minded about what a hunter looks like and who might come to appreciate all that hunting has to offer.

Expanding hunter participation will require that we communicate what it is that we love about it. For me, this includes watching animals undisturbed, trying to understand their behaviors and anticipate their next movements, using the landscape to our advantage while stalking in close, and savoring the opportunity to eat the most locally sourced meat possible.

It’s also important that prospective hunters understand they don’t have to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of taking an animal’s life. Some in our community casually use terms like “killer” and “slayer” in jest and as a compliment, which still makes me uncomfortable. And if this type of language is off-putting to someone like me, it no doubt alienates nonhunters who are left with the wrong impression of what we find appealing about the sport.

Tree-hugging vegetarians might not be the easiest of recruits, but—with informed dialogue, generous mentors, and thoughtful messaging—they can be convinced. I’m living proof.

Sara Hill

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posted in: In the Arena

March 8, 2021

In the Arena: South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

Based in: Orangeburg, SC
Mission: We connect public hunters with private landowners who are willing to provide hunting opportunities that promote respect for the land and ethical hunting for the future.
Vision: To provide hunting opportunities for everyone in South Carolina who would like to participate.

Established in 2017 by a group of citizens passionate about responsible and ethical hunting, the South Carolina Wildlife Partnership aims to ensure that everyone in South Carolina who wants to hunt, will be able to.

Here is their story:

The idea for the Partnership came after seeing how long hunters have to wait to be successfully drawn through a lottery to hunt on state managed public lands in South Carolina. For some, these wait times can extend up to five years, and that’s because there is so little public land in the state. 92 percent of South Carolina is privately owned. That’s when we decided to partner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create opportunities for unsuccessful lottery applicants to hunt on private lands.

In only our second waterfowl season, we hosted 350 public hunters on well managed private lands, eliminating their wait time to hunt, providing an incredible outdoor experience, and connecting people with the land and wildlife they love.  Our hunters on average harvested roughly 3 birds out of a 6-bird daily bag limit, marking a big success for our organization!

Hunters don’t pay to participate in the program. If they aren’t drawn for a public land hunt through the Department of Natural Resources, they can opt in for the private land lottery through the Partnership.

Private landowners are the backbone of this program, as they understand the need for more hunting opportunity and trust the Partnership to conduct managed hunts on their properties.

We are funded completely by grants and donations. Part of this funding comes from the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands. VPA HIP was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and provides funding to state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies to incentivize private landowners to open their land, allowing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities. Initially championed by Jim Range, the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the VPA HIP program has become the most successful tool for increasing public access on private land and helps fund programs like ours! (Click here to read more about this awesome access program.)

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources received $469,000 in VPA-HIP funding in 2020 to boost its Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program.  You can opt in for the hunts with the Partnership by clicking HERE.

 

Randall Williams

March 20, 2020

In the Arena: Zack May

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation

Zack May

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri (now resides in Oro Valley, Arizona)
Occupation: Retired Navy F/A-18 Pilot
Conservation credentials: Chapter President of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, which last year was awarded a Commendation of Achievement by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission for the organization’s work to improve quail habitat on the Coronado National Forest near the U.S.-Mexico border. SAQF volunteers built about 100 loose-rock dams which slow the runoff of water, retain soil, and provide habitat.

Growing up in Missouri, Zack May developed a lifelong interest in fish and wildlife. After a career as a pilot in the Navy flying F/A-18s, he settled down in southern Arizona and quickly grew a strong connection to the region’s landscapes and outdoor opportunities. A dedicated bird hunter (pictured above volunteering for a quail wing collection survey), he now serves as the chapter president of Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hoping to use his role there to ensure a brighter future for the species, lands, and traditions that he has enjoyed.

Here is his story.

I was introduced to hunting and fishing by my grandfather who had a farm in eastern Kansas. Those early experiences gave me a passion for the outdoors that stuck with me.

My favorite hunting experiences are anytime when I’m out with my dog. I love to watch a dog work. They are the best hunting partner you can have.

There’s no place I’d rather hunt than right out my backdoor here in Southern Arizona. We’re fortunate to have beautiful country and a wide diversity of quail and other wildlife

Here’s a short interview with Zack about the efforts of Southern Arizona Quail Forever to conserve and improve habitat, get more people outdoors, and open new access for sportsmen and women.

At this point in my life it is very important to me to give back and do all that I can to ensure future generations have the same opportunity I have had. The organization I’m a part of, Southern Arizona Quail Forever, hosts an annual family day and youth hunt. It’s a great chance to get people outside and teach them different skills.

We are made up of a lot of hunters, but we welcome non-hunters to our organization as well. Anybody who is interested in getting people out onto the landscape and supporting wildlife habitat, we want all those folks to feel welcome and to work with us to do great things.

I want to get as many folks outdoors as possible. If we do not increase the numbers of hunters, the North American Model of wildlife conservation will not be sustainable. We need to get our youth involved, as well as their parents, especially sisters and moms.

America has a special legacy of wildlife and outdoor traditions. We cannot afford to lose these opportunities and let the outdoors become accessible to only a few.

Ed. note: When TRCP staff headed to southern Arizona for a planning retreat earlier this year, Zack and a number of other generous SAQF members volunteered their time (and their dogs) to take us out into the field for a day of quail hunting. While it was a great opportunity to stretch our legs and check out a new landscape, it also gave us a chance to learn more about the efforts of Southern Arizona Quail Forever’s membership to improve access, habitat, and hunter participation. This is an impressive group and we appreciate the work they do!

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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