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Randall Williams

January 5, 2022

In The Arena: Bjorn Dihle

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.

Bjorn Dihle

Hometown: Juneau, Alaska
Occupation: Wildlife film guide and writer
Conservation credentials: Speaking up for the Tongass National Forest

Bjorn Dihle is a lifelong Southeast Alaskan whose world revolves around the incredible habitat and fish and wildlife resources of the region. As a wildlife guide and writer, he knows how fortunate he has been to enjoy the wild backcountry of the Tongass National Forest, a legacy that he hopes to pass on to his young sons one day. As a result, Dihle has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the balanced management of the nation’s largest national forest, working to see a reinstated Roadless Rule safeguard more than 9.2 million acres of undeveloped habitat.

Bjorn’s latest book, A Shape in the Dark, is a fascinating and memorable tribute to brown bears. Outside Magazine, which describes it as “part history, part adventure narrative,” named it one of its best books of 2021. Purchase on Amazon Smile to build your conservation library while supporting TRCP’s work.

Here is his story:

My dad and my mom moved from California to Alaska when they were in their early twenties. Dad wanted to hunt, fish, and experience the wild country of the Tongass National Forest. My two brothers and I grew up listening to his stories and following him around in the woods. He untangled countless yards of our fishing line and we spooked who knows how many deer during our early “hunts” with him. He bought each of us our first big game rifle. Just as important, he instilled a reverence for wild places and animals in us that still guides me today.

I could probably only hunt Southeast Alaska for the rest of my life and be happy. Sitka blacktail is my favorite meat and an August alpine deer hunt is darn near impossible to beat. I love caribou and sheep country up in interior and northern Alaska, but I’m happy to wander there without a rifle. I was lucky enough to be born and live where I am.

One of my most memorable experiences outdoors occurred on Chichagof Island, where during a late spring evening I counted 35 brown bears feeding in one watershed. There were a fair amount of Sitka blacktails, too. In the 1980s, the Forest Service had wanted to clearcut this area and surrounding mountains. Biologists, hunters, and people who care about wild places fought hard and ended up saving the watershed. Watching all those bears go about their business, surrounded by mountains covered in old growth forest, was a good reminder that we can save the wild places we love if we’re willing to stand up and fight.

Conservation is the only reason that I’m able to live the life that I do. My income mostly comes from guiding natural history film crews, primarily after brown bears, but occasionally I get to work with other wildlife, like wolves and moose. The meat my family eats is basically all wild, with deer and salmon making up the lion’s share. Deer, salmon, brown bears, and the whole Southeast Alaska ecosystem are tied to healthy habitat. And here, old growth forest is the most ecologically valuable habitat. Protecting old growth forest from being clearcut and trying to keep our salmon fisheries productive is key to preserving my lifestyle.

We need to reinstate the Roadless Rule and halt industrial clearcut logging of old growth in the Tongass. We also need to support the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy and long-term protections for the Tongass’s remaining old growth. There’s also a stampede of gigantic open-pit mines being built in British Columbia on rivers shared with Southeast Alaska—these waterways also provide critical spawning habitat for our salmon. Runs are already becoming depleted in the region, and if we lose salmon, we will lose an integral part of the ecosystem.

My food, income, and health all come from wildlife and good habitat. I have two sons—a baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old self-described “big boy man.” I really want those boys and future generations to have similar opportunities to live, work, and hunt the way I do. When my boys are men, I want them to be able to fill their freezers with venison and salmon. I want salmon runs flooding our streams, brown bears trudging ancient trails beneath giant trees, and plenty of deer in the forest. Without those things, Southeast Alaska just wouldn’t be the same.

 

Facebook profile: @BjornDihleauthor
Instagram handle: @bjorndihle

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: In the Arena

November 16, 2021

In the Arena: Durrell Smith

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.

Durrell L. Smith

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Occupation: Educator, visual artist, and founder/host/owner of the Sporting Life Notebook
Conservation credentials: Founded the Minority Outdoor Alliance to form a multicultural community of outdoor enthusiasts and professionals. Was recently recognized with Orvis’s 2021 Breaking Barriers Award for bringing new participants to the sporting community. Newest member of the TRCP’s Policy Council.

Durrell Smith is working to expand the narrative of the outdoors to include more Black and Brown voices through education, engagement, and media. Through his organization, the Minority Outdoor Alliance, he hopes to create pipelines for individuals from underrepresented  communities to advance in the outdoor industry and become leaders in conservation policy. And this starts by giving hunters and anglers of every race and background a platform to share their own stories.

In just one example, the MOA recently awarded a $10,000 scholarship to support a young gun-dog enthusiast as he trains a Brittany spaniel puppy and develops an outdoor literature portfolio with the help of a mentor from the industry. In an Instagram post, Smith wrote: “We look at success as a ladder. There are people that have grabbed my hand and opened doors for me. And, it is my personal vow to create opportunities to help others. This is the start to that endeavor.”

Smith is a seasoned podcaster and natural storyteller himself—we highly recommend reading his essay in Outdoor Life about restoring his grandfather’s old shotgun—and he and his wife Ashley recently launched the MOA’s OUR OUTSIDE podcast to celebrate “Bringing the Unlikely to the Outdoors.”

We’re proud to have Minority Outdoor Alliance join the TRCP as our latest organizational partner and welcome Durrell Smith to our Policy Council, which guides the conservation policy issues we work on in Washington, D.C., and beyond.

Here is his story.

Photo by Orvis/Will Hereford courtesy of Durrell Smith.

I was introduced early on to hunting by shooting backyard squirrels with my grandfather, who taught me how to fish, too. In my adulthood, I developed a love for bird dogs and pursuing upland game and have since continued a career and life in the outdoors.

These days, I still love to hunt local, but if I could go anywhere, I would hunt along the Mexican border for Montezuma quail, in Montana for sharptails and Huns, or in Argentina for perdiz. I’d like to fish in the Adirondacks again or in Key West.

Conservation powers my outdoor life through actions and efforts to conserve public land spaces, particularly in the wild bobwhite quail country of Georgia’s Red Hills, where I run my bird dogs. I guide hunts on public land, as well, so the careful stewardship of our lands through conservation is directly related to my ability to introduce more newcomers to the outdoors, especially those in minority communities.

In fact, that’s one of the biggest conservation challenges where I live: Bringing more Black and Brown voices into the conversation and educating underrepresented communities on the North American Model of Conservation.

Photo courtesy of Durrell Smith.

It is important for me to be involved in conservation, because I see myself as a model for my community and an advocate for those who were previously voiceless. Conservation efforts have historically excluded Black and Brown people, and that simply makes no sense. There are collective conservation efforts across the globe that are helping to save our planet, so it’s a simple idea that transcends the complex nature of racial and ethnic boundaries.

Here in Georgia, another one of our biggest challenges is restoring bobwhite quail habitat and increasing the number of quail statewide. My most memorable outdoor adventure to date was the day that my young pointer, Vegas, pointed and handled a covey of wild quail in South Georgia. I pray that my children and their children will be able to witness the same thing, the beautiful yet shocking flush of a covey of bobwhites, because of the work we are doing now.

 

Follow Durrell @thesportinglifenotebook and @minorityoutdooralliance. Do you know someone In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

 

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.

 

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.

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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