October 13, 2023

Cultivating Community and Inclusivity at Learn to Hunt Colorado

This is a guest blog from Durrell Smith, the founder of the Minority Outdoor Alliance. Through his organization, Durrell hopes to create pipelines for individuals from underrepresented communities to advance in the outdoor industry and become leaders in conservation policy.

The 2023 Learn to Hunt Upland Experience hosted by the Minority Outdoor Alliance and Pheasants Forever, in-partnership with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, took place September 15 – 17, 2023 at the Valhalla Hunt Club in Bennett, Colorado.

This was the second time I have had the opportunity to facilitate an event aimed at elevating the wisdom of 10 mentors and 10 participants through the continued cultivation of inclusivity and a healthier outside experience. Over the course of a few days, both mentors and participants shared their various paradigms in the hopes of creating a much more engaged and diverse community of upland bird hunters. 

Each year, I learn something new – and it’s not only about the participants. We all come to share our stories, the adversity we may have faced, and to question the challenges we’ve have faced in the field while striving to become better, and more experienced, upland hunters.

The goal of the event was two-fold: educate both those participants seeking to take a step forward in their upland hunting experience and those who want to learn more, while simultaneously cultivating a deeper and more meaningful relationship between the mentors and the participants in the hopes of creating a community that will stand the test of time. What was most revealing to me, was the paradigm shared by our participants and the reinforcement of what I already knew about the mentors – in particular, my dear friends Jared Romero and Dominic Lucero. 

I’m always excited to meet back up with Dominic Lucero in Colorado. He is the founder of Colorado Treks, a non-profit organization that works to inspire life-changing confidence in youth, families, and communities of Colorado through cultural experiences and outdoor education.

Dominic brought a great deal of wisdom and knowledge from the indigenous and Chicano communities to the event. Much of what Dominic focuses on, and what really speaks to my heart, is the idea that nature is medicine. It is healing and reviving.  

Dominic is someone who not only inspires me but challenges me to think deeper about the healing within myself and the possibilities of healing through the outdoors. From that perspective, and setting aside from the experience that I’ve acquired over the last 7 1/2 years in the uplands, I often ask myself two questions: what am I presenting to our community of diverse individuals? Am I complimenting nature’s medicine with my own prescription, and does that prescription fit, and work, for diverse and varied individuals?  

Building upon that, Dominic challenged us to think about the ways in which the indigenous peoples of Mexican and Chicano heritage relate and add to the story of the upland hunter. I’m always moved by Dominic’s words, his inspiration, and his personal stories. Dominic spends time investing in a family atmosphere, and he has continued to earn the trust of so many.  There’s nothing pretentious about a day in the field with Dominic, and I know personally that his mentorship speaks volumes to those who may have felt trauma or experienced a lack of access, and how they may have prevented one’s ability to truly experience all the opportunities available outside.  His role as a mentor was impactful for all in attendance. 

During the event, I also spent a great deal of time with someone I would consider a brother, a friend, and an inspiration. Someone who creates opportunities, not for himself, but for others, and someone who spends a great deal of time working to understand the necessity of diversity in the outdoors and communicating the message of conservation through access, programming opportunities, and story. I’ve known Jared Romero, director of strategic partnerships at the TRCP, for three years, and I have never had a chance to really dive deep into the story that connects him to the uplands. This event changed that. 

Spending a day in the field together chasing truckers behind pointing labs and German shorthaired pointers was all that was needed to illuminate his own past. Jared, and our day afield, changed my perception of what I thought an upland hunter might look like – particularly in the grouse woods. Jared reminisced on stories of hunting with his grandfather, chasing blue grouse in the various landscapes of Colorado. He reflected by noting, “Blue grouse hunting is how I cut my teeth as a young hunter. I had some of my first successes hunting. It’s an experience I’ll always remember with my family and grandpa.”

Jared’s message stuck with me. As someone of African American descent seeking to change the paradigm in the narrative of what’s possible in the uplands space, I still had not pictured a man of Hispanic heritage also decoding the complexity of the grouse woods. That is what events like this are for: to continue coloring a new slate and story within the landscape of the hunting community. As a mentor, Jared’s perspectives, experiences, and openness benefitted both participants and mentors alike. 

Additionally, the tremendous contributions of the South Metro Chapter of Pheasants Forever were significant, and I would like to include a special thank you to Dean, Kaleigh, and the chapter membership.  Simon, another member of Hispanic heritage, also recontextualized everything that I thought about who spends time chasing grouse. What also struck me was the humility that Simon exuded when talking about the many years he spent looking for others like us and this peer group in the outdoors. It is humbling to know that so many people have spent large amounts of time looking for what this event aimed to create: a diverse and empowered community of individuals that love upland, birds, bird dogs, and the habitat that we seek to conserve.

The first day, we spent some classroom time going over the basics of firearms, learning conservation history, habitat, and the great work that all of our partnering organizations are doing collectively to continue this great American story.  After the classroom sessions, we took our participants outside for a great time – learning how to approach bird dogs in a safe, yet efficient manner, and for practice on the clays course to ensure safe and effective shots. There were lots of successes, many misses, and a whole heap of smiles. We had a great time breaking clays and building confidence.  

The second day, we spent in the field at Valhalla with pointing labs, German shorthaired pointers, and an emboldened, confident group of participants seeking to tell a story of their own. What I should note is the incredible amount of consideration given to the dogs when shots didn’t always present as safe, and the respect given to the dogs for their work teaching our new participants. I wonder if next year we might even include the dog names on the mentor list, because at the end of the day, it seemed that we all learned more from the dogs than we ever could in a classroom. 

The event was powerful and there is so much more I could share, but in closing, I would encourage you to learn more about these opportunities, to reach out to our mentors and our participants. It will help you better understand this experience in their context and from their paradigm.  Doing so would better inform us all of how powerful the outdoors and the upland experience can be when we all come together in the name of conservation, education, and diversity.

 I want to say thank you to our partners from Pheasants and Quail Forever, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Colorado Treks. 

Read more about TRCP’s commitment to community and inclusivity below:

Reflections on Mentorship and Conservation

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posted in: General

September 29, 2023

TRCP Applauds Passage of the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act

The bipartisan legislation that passed Congress this week would help more Americans build confidence in the great outdoors and safeguard hunting and angling traditions.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act (HR 5110) in a 424-1 vote on Tuesday September 26, 2023. The Senate passed the legislation by unanimous consent the next day. The bill has now gone to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. 

The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) to clarify that the prohibition of use of federal education funds for certain weapons training does not apply to extracurricular programs such as archery, hunting, and other shooting sports.  

This summer the U.S. Department of Education indicated that as a result of changes made in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which passed in 2022, schools with hunting, archery, and other outdoor education programs may not be eligible to receive certain federal funds.  This would negatively impact millions of students who participate in archery programs, hunter education classes, wilderness and outdoor classes, and school sponsored target shooting teams.  The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act seeks to restore funding and clarify that students may have access to educational programs and activities such as archery and hunting safety education. 

“We applaud Representatives Green and Peltola, and Senators Tester and Murkowski for developing and passing a bipartisan solution to this issue. Restoring federal funding for hunter education, archery in the schools, and other outdoor programs will help more Americans build confidence to venture into the great outdoors,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “With overwhelming bipartisan support, we urge President Biden to sign this important bill into law without delay.” 

President Biden’s signature would ensure that these programs remain available in schools across the nation and help safeguard the future of our hunting and angling traditions.   

Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to the future of hunting and fishing here


posted in: General

September 22, 2023

Hit a Home Run for Conservation 

New York Mets First Baseman Pete Alonso has a passion for hunting, fishing, and giving back. 

You may know Pete Alonso as the two-time Home Run Derby Champion, three-time Major League Baseball All-Star, and the first basemen for the New York Mets, but did you know he was named the July 2023 Most Valuable Philanthropist by MLB’s Players Trust and has been a staunch supporter of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership since his rookie season in 2019? 

MLB’s Players Trust recognizes players whose efforts have made a positive impact on the causes and communities personal to them.  Over the course of the regular season, the Players Trust bestows three Most Valuable Philanthropist (MVP) awards to celebrate those who have demonstrated a giving spirit and positive social impact beyond the baseball field.   Pete Alonso was recognized in July 2023 with the MVP award for his tireless work with the Alonso Foundation and for supporting causes he cares about – such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. 

Off the field, Alonso is a lifelong hunter and angler. Fishing in his home waters of Tampa Bay and hunting throughout the country have clearly made a mark on Alonso. This is evident through his charitable work and his advocacy for conservation issues important to the sporting community. Alonso has long supported the conservation work of the TRCP by hosting a fishing trip in Tampa that has been auctioned off at the annual TRCP Capital Conservation Award Dinner, and his zeal for the outdoors has been frequently highlighted in the press, through an appearance on a special episode of MeatEater, hunting mule deer in Colorado with host, and TRCP Board member, Steve Rinella, and his work with TRCP partner, Captains for Clean Water

Given his altruistic spirit and passion for conservation, it is no surprise that Alonso has partnered with TRCP for the 2023 Fall Sweepstakes, offering everyone the chance to win an expense-paid trip for 2 to Tampa, FL to fish with Pete.   

On the field, Pete Alonso hits home runs with the best of them, but his passion and support for guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish is a homerun for conservation. 


posted in: General

August 29, 2023

Volunteers Make an Impact on New Mexico Private Lands Conservation

The Impact Outdoors NM projects will benefit wildlife, habitat, hunters, and a ranching operation.

In early August, joined a group of volunteers with Impact Outdoors New Mexico on behalf of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to help complete three projects on a local landowner’s property near Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The projects benefited wildlife, hunters, and the ranching operation.

Impact Outdoors is a nonprofit organization dedicated to impacting communities through education, conservation, and meaningful outdoor opportunities like hunting and fishingBy fostering strong relationships and community, for both veterans and youth, Impact Outdoors builds a cadre of strong volunteers who possess a deep passion for the outdoorsThrough Impact Outdoors, many of the youth and veterans volunteer their time to assist with habitat restoration on public and private lands.

Private landowners play instrumental roles for conservation, ensuring that public and private working lands are conserved and managed correctly benefits us allThanks to a great working relationship with a landowner near Santa Rose, NM, volunteers with Impact Outdoors had already been able to help restore wetlands, fence off riparian zones to protect cattle from over grazing and restore native grasses, and install water valves to ensure water gets to the appropriate locations on the propertyDue to these past efforts, the leopard frog, which is listed as a species of conservation concern in New Mexico, has returned to the property.   

The Hermit Peak and Calf Canyon Fire in 2022 burned northwest in the headwaters of the Pecos River and was the largest fire in New Mexico State history. This property is irrigated with water from the Pecos River. After the fire the region received large amounts of rain causing a carbon kill off in the river. Due to the quick actions of the landowner and Impact Outdoors NM they were able to keep the carbon out of the restored wetlands and maintain an intact macroinvertebrate source to reestablish in the Pecos River. 

In a continuation of this important conservation work, I joined about 30 volunteers from Impact Outdoors NM as they set about tackling three new projects in coordination with the landowner. We installed a catwalk over a ditch headgate to ensure the landowners safety when changing water allocations for irrigation and providing water to the wetlands. We built a fully accessible duck blind that will accommodate a track chair and allow it to fully turn around. Lastly, we built a ramp and pully system that allows a layout boat to be launched into the wetlands allowing a hunter using a wheelchair to hunt waterfowl from the water with a volunteer from Impact Outdoors beside them in the water in waders.   

The event was a great success and the completion of the three projects helped prepare the way for youth and veterans to have a quality location to hunt turkeys and waterfowl as well as fish this fall. 

Click here to learn more about Impact Outdoors NM

Click here to learn more about private lands conservation programs 


posted in: General

August 10, 2023

Reflections on Mentorship and Conservation

The conservation community needs to lean into mentorship. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to engage with the mentorship cohort of Next 100 Colorado while on a conservation tour in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the Next 100 Colorado focuses on workforce diversity across conservation and outdoor recreation, ensuring equitable access for all people, and using the outdoors to tell accurate, complex, uplifting and healing stories about Colorado lands. The mentorship cohorts are intended to provide community for underrepresented individuals in conservation as well as guidance for mentees who are within the first five years of their conservation career. The conservation trip took place on July 18-19 and consisted of five mentees and four mentors (or members) of Next 100 Colorado. 

The mentorship cohort tours the San Luis Valley of Colorado

On this trip both mentors and mentees were able to learn about the complexity and history of Spanish and Mexican land grants as well as private land conservation in Southern Colorado. On a ranch tour we were able to see conservation at a landscape level as the ranch was taking significant efforts to reduce fuel loads across the semi-desert shrubland to the montane forest ecosystems. This would help ensure that the next fire on the landscape isn’t catastrophic but rather beneficial. Fire has evolved with these ecosystems and during our tour we learned how indigenous tribes utilized fire to maintain healthy forests and create quality hunting areas for themselves. We ended the trip by visiting and camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was a first for many of the participants. 

The tour provided the opportunity to learn about the complex history of Spanish and Mexican land grants.

The experience was tremendous. It fostered camaraderie and community amongst the group as we broke bread together, learned about new people, and shared new experiences as a team. Together, we learned that a key to making any camping trip successful is being familiar with the tent you are bringing, and if you are setting it up for the first time, try to do it in the daylight hours. We overcame this obstacle together and left with the valuable lesson that there is nothing worse than setting up a tent for the first time in the dark. 

While reflecting on this trip, I have spent time thinking of all the mentors and influential individuals who chose to share their time and talents to help shape me and my journey. Those who guided me range from family members to teachers and coaches to coworkers. I can personally attest that conservation needs to lean into mentorship as it is a powerful tool for passing on knowledge, skills, and experience. As demographics shift in the U.S. it is important that our conservation community engage and provide mentorship to underserved communities so that future generations know the importance of protecting our natural resources now and for future generations to come. Currently Hispanic and Latino children make up 50% of the U.S. population 18 years old and younger and we need to be intentional in how we connect with them. 

Enjoying Great Sand Dunes National Park

Hunting and angling mentorship is important for introducing new people to the sport and our conservation ethos. It teaches the necessary safety and ethical practices while helping develop a lifelong passion for the outdoors. National R3 programs (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) exist to increase participation in hunting, shooting sports, and fishing and have a strong focus on mentorship.  To date, many states and organizations have implemented similar mentoring programs to help grow the hunting community as well. 

The stunning views of Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Two additional organizations that have leaned into mentorship are the Minority Outdoor Alliance and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. Together, they are engaging new and diverse audiences to build a multicultural upland hunting community. The Learn to Hunt experience is designed to provide opportunities for novice minority hunters to form strong authentic bonds in the field and around the campfire. These events provide knowledge, skills, and an introduction to hunting through education and interaction with instructors in a controlled setting.  The desired outcome is that participants gain the confidence and support they need to further pursue their outdoor interests and stay connected well after the event.  

As conservationists, let’s keep leaning into the mentorship challenge and extend the olive branch to our kids, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and greater community just as our mentors did for us. I encourage you all to participate in your state wildlife agency’s mentorship programs or take a mentorship pledge like I did this year with Pheasants Forever.   



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.

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