posted in: In the Arena

February 16, 2022

In the Arena: John Annoni

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.

John Annoni

Hometown: Allentown, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Public school teacher, author, and principal investigator – Cornell University
Conservation credentials: Founder of Camp Compass Academy, where he introduces urban students in grades five through twelve to conservation, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities

In 1994, John Annoni started out as a schoolteacher with a simple goal: To introduce a new generation of youth to America’s outdoor heritage through after-school activities. That effort has now turned into a life-changing year-round experience known as Camp Compass, where volunteer mentors make a difference in the inner city by sharing their knowledge of hunting, fishing, archery, and other outdoor activities, while providing tutoring assistance and much-needed social guidance for students aged 10 to 18. This award-winning non-profit program gives young people the exposure to outdoor activities that Annoni discovered as a child only with the help of books, relatives, neighbors, and his limited resources. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.

Here is his story.

They say if you don’t get love in one place, you’ll find it in another. I’m grateful that Mother Nature embraced me.

I was introduced to the outdoors while I was trying to avoid abuse in my home in the housing projects of Allentown, Pa. I have a chapter in one of my books about seeing a pheasant in the local junkyard, while I was hunting starlings and rats. It was quite a time in my life for joy and pain.

My grandmother got me scholarships to summer camp—big shout out to Camp Horseshoe!—where I fished and learned about firearms. I also had a few uncles who showed their love by spending time with me in the outdoors, and that helped me grow in my teen years.

These days, my dream hunt would be west of the Mississippi River, because in 33 years of teaching I have never had a week off during the fall mule deer, antelope, elk, or duck seasons to head out West. I’m not allowed by contract to have more than two days off back-to-back, so by the time I could get there, I’d have to turn around and come back. I just hope that one day I can make the trip, be around good people, and chase critters with time on my side.

I’m what could be considered a non-traditional hunter and fisherman, because I wasn’t brought in by my immediate family, so I guess my viewpoint on conservation is a bit non-traditional as well. To me, the most important “critters” we can help are America’s youth, because they will affect wildlife with their future decisions and actions. There is an opportunity to use conservation activities to empower youth, and even adults, and give them the tools needed to navigate life’s challenges. For me, conservation is a battery; it powers the outdoor experiences that help to grow others.

In some circles, the biggest conservation challenge is about animals and flora. In my case, and in a lot of places across America, the human is the one trying and needing to be saved. If you are getting shot at, or getting things taken, or you don’t have the chance for experiential learning, your chances for a decent quality of life are diminished. Conservation is so separate from the daily grind of the concrete world, until it is introduced and used as a support mechanism or an escape.

There are all kinds of people who hunt and fish. We are selling ourselves short if we don’t recognize that. The opportunities available in the outdoors, in fact, are just as diverse, but the space is not very inclusive. And that’s what I’m trying to change seven days a week. Using a bunch of equity, diversity and inclusion words or workshops to make us think we should care, or that we are making progress, pales in comparison to real proof that we all want to be together in a common space for a common reason.

It’s important for me to be involved in conservation because I believe in what conservation has to offer those who participate in it, what it does for wildlife, and how it molds us as humans.


Learn more about John’s work and Camp Compass Academy at campcompass.org. Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

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posted in: In the Arena

January 31, 2022

In the Arena: Jared Ungar

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.

Jared Ungar

Hometown: Canton, Georgia
Occupation: Low voltage technician
Conservation credentials: Recently awarded the first-ever Corey Rockwell Bird Dog, Literary, & Conservation Development Award

Jared Ungar represents the bright future of grouse hunting and conservation awareness in America. As the Minority Outdoor Alliance’s first-ever scholarship honoree, Ungar will get the support he needs to train his first Brittany spaniel puppy, while developing an outdoor writing portfolio with the help of an industry mentor. We’re honored to give him a platform to share his experience along the way.

Here is his story.

My cousin John was the first person to take me out hunting when I was 13, but it wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I figured out bird hunting over a dog is what lights my fire. I realized it when I was sitting in a treestand waiting for a whitetail to cross my path—I couldn’t help but think, “I could be hunting birds with my dog Colt right now.”

For better or worse, that was the last time I went deer hunting.

The first bird I harvested with Colt gave me one of my most memorable outdoor adventures. I had just driven from Georgia to Pennsylvania to pick up Colt after he’d been away training for a few months. On my way back, I decided to visit a good friend, Tom, in New Jersey and we ended up spending the day at his hunting club with our Brittanys. It did not disappoint, and I can’t think of a better person to have shared that moment with.

If I could hunt or fish anywhere, I’d chase sharpies in Montana. In every video I’ve watched of sharptail hunters, it’s just clear that they’re having the most fun. And Montana has been a place I’ve wanted to experience for a long time. There is a feeling I get in the mountains—the landscape consumes me and my body feels just a little bit lighter. I’ve only experienced this when trying to comprehend the sheer size of the snowy caps that seem to be a world away and right on top of you at the same time.

The reason I try to be involved in conservation is not complicated: I get to enjoy the outdoor resources that so many people have worked hard to make sure that I have. And I have an obligation to pay that forward.

I think the biggest conservation challenge we’re facing is finding people who are interested enough to learn about hunting, fishing, and conservation. There needs to be enough of us to push policies that will benefit everyone who enjoys the outdoors.

As I grow in my writing, I hope that its reach will grow as well. And I hope that anyone reading will keep in mind that I’m just a bird hunter putting my thoughts on paper. Y’all are just as capable of making memories and sharing your adventures in the outdoors with dogs and friends.


Follow Jared @BrittanyBentBirdBound on Instagram. All photos by @androstheo. Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email info@trcp.org for a questionnaire.

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


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.


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.




Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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