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.
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Occupation: Founder and CEO of Impact Outdoors
Conservation credentials: Fundraising for local conservation projects, revamping wetlands and streambanks, creating opportunities for returning veterans to heal in the outdoors, and hosting outdoor education events for local families
Matt Monjaras is like many lifelong outdoorsmen—he found his passion for hunting and fishing at a young age, felt shaped by his experiences on public lands, and developed an appreciation for the solace he found while tuned into the pursuit of fish or game. But what makes Matt unlike many of us is his effort to give this gift to others in his community by spearheading volunteer conservation efforts, fundraising, and mentorship.
Here is his story.
I was born in Colorado but raised in New Mexico along the banks of the Rio Grande. From Las Cruces to Southern Colorado, I spent many lifechanging hours pursuing bullfrogs and catfish along the river. I was also lucky enough to spend summers with my uncle, where I’d be waist-deep in the San Juan River stocking trout and learning about aquatic habitats with the aid of a dry fly.
These days, I live in a small mountain home in the East Mountains of Albuquerque with my wife, Phoebe, and our two-year-old son, Carter. We are expecting our second child in November of this year.
I’ve visited countless public lands across the West, and these places carved their way into my dreams and life goals. Meanwhile, my father’s reminder that we only get one life to live has truly stuck to my soul. My connection to Mother Earth has not only shaped my direction—it continues to give my life more purpose with each passing day.
After high school graduation, I had about ten friends join the military and rush off to fight for the freedoms we continue to have because of their sacrifices for this great country. That year, I fell in love with waterfowl hunting along the banks of the Animas River in Northern New Mexico, just shy of the Colorado-New Mexico border. This developing passion demanded my presence and forced me to reflect on personal decisions like never before. Inside and outside of my duck blind, I thirsted for more information on all the species I encountered, and I began to recognize co-relationships that existed—right under my nose and since long before my time.
Then my friends began to return home from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them were struggling to find purpose in their direction and had a longing for true community.
One morning, I found myself sitting by the Rio Grande River consoling a friend about many of the haunting decisions he had to make while engaged in battle. I watched a man who I’d considered larger than life seek shelter in the experience of the outdoors. The shadows of ducks, our intended quarry, cut across both of our faces and time slowed as they dropped from the cottonwood canopy into the early morning fog on the river.
We were both locked into that moment, one that demanded all our senses, and I realized that the outdoors can and will save lives. At that moment, nature gave me something to share with my struggling friend, and we transformed a negative hurdle into hope.
It was the day that Impact Outdoors was born. Our mission, since then, has been to impact communities through education, conservation, and meaningful outdoor opportunities. Impact Outdoors achieves these goals through strong relationships, community involvement, dedicated volunteers, and a true passion for the outdoors.
Our organization not only provides opportunities for veterans to hunt, but we also build a community of veterans serving veterans through volunteer work help to enhance habitat and access at the locations where we hold our workshops. We want veterans and families to come through Impact Outdoors and leave with a conservation-minded approach to being sportsmen and sportswomen.
This engagement with the outdoors and each other is healing, but we also benefit from the skills and leadership our ex-military volunteers have to share with the broader Impact Outdoors community. From welding to maneuvering a tractor expertly around wetlands, our veterans bring so much to the table. Their efforts have helped us improve the function of wetlands and provide disability access that enhances others’ hunting opportunities. These projects are a true win for conservation and community leadership while building strong relationships with landowners who provide us access.
We also get kids involved in projects from erosion control to wetland development. The habitat improvements benefit all who enjoy the outdoors, but these activities also help youth become stewards of the land with an awareness of habitat management, data collection, agriculture, and biodiversity. We want our youth to think like biologists in the field, even if they don’t consider themselves to be interested in science.
The private lands that the youth participants interact with serve as an outdoor classroom and a venue for hunter education. We want to help our youth recognize the resources in their own backyards, gain a sense of pride in the outdoors, and understand that conservation requires involvement.
I hope we’re empowering the next generation of conservation-minded leaders who will benefit this community.
The outdoors has always been my safe harbor to deal with life’s challenges, and now I am able to share that gift with others. Helping people and improving the habitats that I have long enjoyed is molding me into the father, husband, and friend I was always meant to be. I am not content to watch my son’s wild places, fisheries, marshlands, or the overall health of the environment diminish—at least, not without a fight.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.