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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:
Louisiana’s redfish – and anglers seeking them – may no longer be competing with the Gulf’s industrial menhaden fishery in nearshore areas, thanks to a Notice of Intent (NOI) adopted by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission on October 5.
Acting in response to a series of net spills by two industrial pogie boat operators in September near Holly and Rutherford beaches, which resulted in an estimated 850,000 menhaden and hundreds of redfish killed, the commission issued an NOI establishing a minimum 1-mile coastwide buffer for the fishery in the state, with a 3-mile buffer required between Holly and Rutherford beaches. The buffer would widen an existing quarter-mile-wide area that is off limits to industrial pogie boats, which was established this season. The NOI also details more stringent penalties and reporting requirements for future net spills.
As part of the required process for regulatory change in Louisiana, the NOI will be open for further public comment and must still pass through state House and Senate Natural Resources Committee review before being finalized in early 2024.
Gulf menhaden, also known as pogies, provide a critical food source for iconic Louisiana species like redfish and speckled trout. However, nearly 1 billion pounds of pogies are harvested by the industrial pogie fishery each year, mainly from Louisiana waters. To date, pogie boats have been allowed to fish shallows closer than 500 yards from Louisiana’s shorelines, stirring up sediment with their massive seine nets and impacting both fragile coastal habitats and iconic sportfish populations. Of most concern to anglers have been impacts to redfish, which spawn and congregate in these areas.
The recreational fishing community has been sounding the alarm about the industry’s impacts to sportfish populations and shorelines for years, all while accepting more and more limits on recreational fishing, including stricter size and creel limits on redfish and speckled trout.
“This represents a significant step forward in the conservation and management of Louisiana’s fisheries,” says Chris Macaluso, director of the Center for Marine Fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission thankfully has recognized that the concerns of anglers and conservation advocates are valid, and that Louisiana’s nearshore habitats need protection from foreign-owned, industrial pogie fishing boats. This is a big win for redfish, speckled trout, mackerel, dolphins, brown pelicans, and a host of other fish and wildlife, and a win for those who appreciate and enjoy Louisiana’s coast.”
“We thank the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for taking this positive step towards protecting our fragile coastlines and the fish and wildlife that live there,” says David Cresson, executive director and CEO for the Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana. “The action of the commissioners last week, and many Louisiana legislators who encouraged that action, was a tremendous show of leadership. Now it is critical that we stay vigilant and focused as the NOI continues through the process and these much-needed regulations are finalized.”
Under the commission’s leadership, the Louisiana fishery could soon join the ranks of the other Gulf states who have expanded menhaden conservation regulations. While recreational fishing and conservation groups are still intent on establishing a scientifically based catch limit on menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico, they collectively recognize last week’s vote by the commission as a landmark positive step forward to protect redfish and the state’s coastal environment.
“The hundreds of small business owners that make up the Louisiana Charter Boat Association applaud the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for recommending stronger menhaden regulations, and we commend the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for affirming these recommendations. While more work remains to ensure that this Notice of Intent becomes law, today’s vote was a monumental step in the right direction,” says Richard Fischer, executive director for the Louisiana Charter Boat Association. “Years of teamwork from several organizations led to this moment, and today’s result would not have been possible without our dedicated and coordinated efforts. Thank you so much to every member of our coalition that played a role in making today’s vote happen.”
“Menhaden are a key prey species for many sportfish, including tarpon. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust appreciates the recent steps by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to expand protections for menhaden and to protect sensitive coastal habitats,” says Kellie Ralston, vice president for conservation and public policy for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. “We look forward to continuing to work with LDWF and our conservation partners to ensure long-term sustainability of the Louisiana menhaden fishery.”
“Louisiana’s anglers and recreational fishing businesses depend on healthy habitats and fish populations,” says Martha Guyas, Southeast fisheries policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “ASA thanks the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for taking this important step toward reducing impacts to coastal resources from the industrial menhaden fishery.”
“This is great news for menhaden, the recreational anglers of Louisiana, and the local businesses they support,” says Brett Fitzgerald, executive director for the Angler Action Foundation. “The door is now open to focus on and further necessary protections for our gamefish and their forage fish throughout the region. Many thanks to all who worked for so long on this important issue.”
Photo by Karlie Roland.
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
The TRCP organized a trip to Washington, DC to advocate for enacting meaningful legislation that supports restoration and drought mitigation.
The Rio Grande is the Nation’s fourth longest river, providing drinking water to an estimated 12 million people, irrigating thousands of acres of farmland, and supporting habitat for game and fish. Like much of the West, the Rio Grande Basin is experiencing long-term drought and aridification as a consequence of decreased precipitation and increased temperatures throughout the basin. This results in increased strain on freshwater availability for communities, habitats, and species while simultaneously increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires and other natural hazards.
Thanks to the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the past two years were marked by an historic increase in federal funding to support locally led conservation and restoration initiatives throughout the West. Yet, much of this funding is difficult for communities to access, particularly rural and underserved communities. For example, cost share requirements, limited local capacity, and minimal federal investment in project planning and development make it difficult for many communities to access federal funding opportunities for watershed restoration.
Additionally, substantial portions of available federal funding are specifically focused on addressing drought in the Colorado River Basin and “other basins experiencing comparable levels of drought” without statutory guidance on how drought is quantified. This makes it difficult to determine how much money will be available to other drought-stricken basins, like the Rio Grande.
That’s why this September the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership organized a trip to Washington, DC to educate lawmakers on the importance of federal investment in the Rio Grande and to emphasize the importance of accessible and stakeholder-driven federal funding allocation. We were glad to be joined by our partners and friends who do national and state-specific work across the basin, including American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, the New Mexico Chapter of Audubon Southwest, Amigos Bravos, Colorado Open Lands, New Mexico Wild, and the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.
During our trip, we met with staff from Senators Luján (D-N.M.), Heinrich (D-N.M.), Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Bennet (D-Colo.), as well as staff from Representatives Stansbury (D-N.M.), Leger Fernendez (D-N.M.), Vasquez (D-N.M.), and Boebert’s (R-Colo.) offices and were glad to see broad support for increased coordination and management of the Rio Grande Basin.
We appreciate bipartisan leadership from our members of Congress in Colorado and New Mexico to enact meaningful legislation that supports restoration and drought mitigation, and we are thankful for the continued support of ensuring that this investment is meaningfully distributed on the ground.
Learn more about TRCP’s commitment to habitat and clean water here
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.Learn More