Do you have any thoughts on this post?
Following a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, lifelong outdoorsman Brian Flynn returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and struggled with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. Hunting, fishing, and the natural beauty of America’s public lands helped propel him through his darkest days and launched a personal journey of healing that ultimately led to the founding of the Two Wolf Foundation and a new mission to bring meaning and purpose to his fellow Veterans through conservation and land stewardship projects. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering and healing others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.
Here is his story.
“Once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.”Brian Flynn
My introduction to the outdoors began with weekend fishing adventures for largemouth bass with my father. Early childhood was a difficult time in my life, my parents divorced when I was very young, and I struggled as most do, trying to make sense of it all. Around the age of 8, I moved to southern California to live with my dad — not far from the world-famous largemouth bass haven of Lake Casitas. Every Saturday morning before the sun had time to rise over the Topatopa Mountains, we would head to the lake with a bag full of PB&J sandwiches and our spinning reels. Those early days of my life fishing for the next world record largemouth would become the foundation of my love for the outdoors. Fishing would serve as the primary outlet in my life, allowing me to disconnect from the stress and noise of a chaotic world while keeping me curious about each body of water I would encounter.
Twenty years later, and what felt like a lifetime of war as a U.S. Army Green Beret (Special Forces), I returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and found myself struggling with posttraumatic stress (which I wouldn’t admit until years later) and the laundry list of associated mental health struggles including depression, anxiety, and a general loss of joy in my life. One of my closest friends, and Special Forces teammate, recognized the bad shape I was in and took me to a local bow shop and said, “pick one out, we’re going deer hunting.”
I had fished nearly all my life, and hunting was totally new, yet I appreciated the challenge that archery hunting whitetail deer presented. I walked out of that shop with a brand-new Mathews ZXT, a handful of arrows, and a practice target. I had a lot to learn in a hurry and I became fully consumed by crafting a new set of skills that were necessary for a successful harvest in the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky.
It is hard to explain, but I believe that over the following years, hunting is what pulled me through one of the darkest times of my life. It brought me closer to people that I cared for, it gave me necessary solitude in nature to decompress, and it provided me with unparalleled moments of gratitude surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes filled with incredible sunrises and sunsets that I might not have ever seen.
On my personal journey of healing from the invisible wounds of war and the common struggles associated with transition from military service (loss of purpose, loss of identity, and loss of belonging) I was on a mission to relocate my family from the southeastern United States to the mountains and woods of the West.
On a scouting trip to Montana, my wife and I took a day trip to Bowman Lake, a remote alpine lake in Glacier National Park. After making the trek from Columbia Falls, down more than 40 miles of washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a small campground right on the lake. It was the most breathtaking view I have ever witnessed. Standing there on the shoreline, I was so overcome with joy, amazement, and awe from the towering mountains ascending straight from the water’s edge. My life’s calling was revealed. My new purpose would be to create moments like I was experiencing — a joyful and healing connection to nature — for my fellow warriors struggling with PTSD and associated mental health issues. The work to establish Two Wolf Foundation began immediately.
I am very grateful to now call western Montana home. It is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise. Its abundant hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities provide more for me than I will ever be able to describe. I very recently started to fly fish, and now I would say that my dream day is hiking along a small mountain stream catching native Westslope Cutthroat trout right here in Montana. I am planning a trip next year with some friends to fish for native California Golden Trout in the Eastern Sierra. Ask me this question again in a year and I might have to change my answer…
Being involved in conservation and stewardship of our public lands has brought a whole new level of appreciation and meaning to the time that I spent outdoors. The power of nature and outdoor recreation to promote healing is undeniable. Time spent outdoors has proven measurable positive impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Being able to give back to these outdoor spaces that provide us with so much is incredibly special to me. Through participation in conservation and stewardship, I find myself cultivating a much deeper connection to the land and a sense of pride knowing that I am doing my part to ensure that these healing spaces will still be accessible for future generations.
One of the most impacting elements of Two Wolf Foundation’s Warrior Stewardship program is being able to serve again as a member of a team. It fosters a renewed sense of belonging. The transition from military service can be extremely difficult and very lonely as life in the military is built on the framework of community. Throughout a military career, you will rarely do anything alone, there is always a “battle buddy” — the squad, the platoon, the company, and so on. In my case, the SFOD-A (Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha), a twelve-man Special Forces team, was the hardest thing to lose. The bond and friendships built during deployment, training, and in the team room give you the greatest sense of belonging achievable. But once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.
The health of our public lands is impacted by many things including habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change. I know there are amazing people, and organizations like the TRCP, working daily to develop solutions to protect the land and wildlife. But the biggest problem I see every day within every recreationist’s control is litter and pollution. You don’t need to be a biodiversity scientist or wildlife biologist to have an immediate and positive impact on these natural ecosystems. You just need to be responsible enough to pack out your trash. Responsible recreation is everyone’s job. It is increasingly frustrating and sad to see trash left behind at every campsite, to see every forest trail littered with soda and beer cans.
It is my commitment to give back to what pulled me through the darkest moments of my life. For years, I relied on one “treatment” to deal with the mental health struggles that I faced: self-medication (alcohol abuse and dependency). In that time, I had lost my connection to nature and the peace that it brings the mind, body, and spirit. I only focused on numbing whatever pain, sadness, and stress was plaguing me and booze was the self-destructive “easy button.” With the unwavering support of my wife and a few amazing friends, I was able to rediscover how beneficial the outdoors was. Pretty simply, I realized that a sober day afield hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping simply made me feel better! Committing my renewed life to conservation and stewardship service is in the hope of sustaining this incredible resource for others who may find themselves struggling the way that I was.
The outdoors is the ultimate classroom and provides so many valuable life lessons. Whether hunting or fishing, you must be totally present and aware of your surroundings. The woods and the water teach patience, critical thinking, safety, and responsibility. As important as it is to learn these skills in austere environments, it is equally important that the next generation of hunters and anglers understand how their actions impact this invaluable natural resource. We must lead by example, knowing that one day the responsibility of caring for these special places will lie in their hands. In every wonderful memory created by an outdoor experience, the next generation’s commitment to conservation will ensure those same opportunities exist for generations to come.
Learn more about the Two Wolf Foundation by visiting Two Wolf Foundation | The One You Feed
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re Ryan Nitz, South Florida hunting is all about risk taking. Along with a little sacrifice, and even more suffering.
After bushwhacking through the subtropical forest, the Florida native once swiped a massive, fuzzy, orange-striped puss caterpillar from the back of his neck. Almost immediately his vision blurred and profuse drool dripped from his slack mouth as he stumbled back to his truck. That injury was just to his neck. His feet take bigger risks.
That’s because Nitz often opts to hunt barefoot. Not in the cool, open woodlands or grassy meadows of middle America, but in the snake and spider-filled swamps of the Everglades. While wading northern Everglades haunts in search of goonie bucks, his feet find a lot more.
“I’ve literally stepped on a water moccasin,” Nitz says.
He trod on the squirming snake while walk-and-stalk hunting for deer, jumping away before it could strike because by sheer luck he’d stepped on the serpent’s neck. He’s also stumbled into an alligator while heading out of a cypress dome in fading twilight. He was marching toward his swamp buggy pickup spot, bow in hand, not paying attention as he tried to get a cell phone signal. He ran smack into a massive gator, luckily facing away from him.
“When I hit the tail of him, he did a one-eighty and snapped his jaws,” he says. “I’ll never forget the sound it made, like a 12-gauge shotgun going off. I could actually feel the percussion.”
While he says those reptile encounters were scary, they don’t compare to his worst barefoot experience: stepping on a scorpion. “The only way to describe it is if you stepped on a knife. I couldn’t put shoes on for like nine days.”
Risks Are Worth the Rewards
Why does Nitz, nicknamed by peers the “Barefoot Bandit,” risk exposing his feet for hunting? Because where he lives, the best place to find 10-point whitetail bucks is in inundated cypress swamps, where wearing boots means overheating, having soggy socks inside sunken boots, and making lots of noise. He also barefoot hunts, for deer as well as hogs and turkeys, for better maneuverability and stealth. He acknowledges the risk. But he’s onto something. Because this story is not just about his feet, but also his feats.
Feats garnered due to his early sporting success – and not just personally bagging the biggest South Florida bucks. Feats like the rush of getting to guide out-of-state hunters into pristine Florida uplands to call in Osceola turkeys. Or like changing his career from pest control specialist to one of the more highly sought after (and youngest) snook fishing guides in South Florida. And like being able to lend his experience to offer fishing and hunting trips that leave positive lifelong memories with those who hire him.
“I really like showing people what I’ve learned over the last 20 years,” he says. “And my clients are sometimes almost in tears because they had such a memorable day in the field with a family member or friend.”
Social Media Sensation
Nitz has spent his entire 32 years in coastal southeast Florida, in and near the northern reaches of the Everglades ecosystem. From turkey hunts in north Florida to whitetails in the Glades, he’s had hunting success throughout the state. But it was snook fishing in his backyard that really launched his business, Ryan Nitz Charters.
Nitz became an expert snook fisherman near his Jupiter home after spending every afternoon in high school wading along mangroves and under bridges in what he calls “the snook capital of North America.” Until seven years ago, it was only for fun. Back when he was working in pest control to earn a living. But as a wildlife photographer, he started taking pictures and filming experiences using the GoPro on his head. His girlfriend at the time insisted he set up social media accounts and post his unique photos from the field, which he’d resisted because he thought people often use these platforms for all the wrong reasons. But he gave in and started posting the snook shots online.
His Instagram following blew up.
Television shows began to find him through his social media accounts, as did a sudden rush of people willing to be clients. He suddenly realized he could make a living out of doing what he loved. So he went and earned his captain’s license, bought a better boat, and stopped doing pest control. The rest is history.
“Now I’ve made myself known for the biggest snook you can catch.”
Over time Nitz’s Instagram account has literally become his business. It also lets him showcase the deer and gobblers he still stalks for fun, and which ultimately led to him guiding hunters into some to the best Osceola turkey habitat in the state.
He says that much of the land he leases for 20 to 30 turkey hunting clients each year is in the eastern part of the Everglades, in the “most pristine Florida woods you can find.” But recently he’s been running into more and more problems with development. One 300-acre property he leases for hunting, along with the property to the north, will soon be developed.
“There goes another piece of the woods we’ll never get back,” he laments. “And all that new infrastructure will block the flow of water from the Kissimmee [River] to Biscayne Bay.”
A Mouthpiece for Conservation
Like the sacrifices he makes for a successful hunt, Nitz has come to recognize that if we care about the natural world and conservation, we all have to be willing to give something up. Like turning down clients who want to fish an area that’s been hit too hard one season, regardless of regulations, or offering time or effort to support restoration efforts. He also wants to use the platform he’s created for conservation.
“Because I have that voice and following, I want to use it while I’m still young.”Click here to support critical Everglades restoration projects –
Nitz readily admits that the South Florida areas he’s put in the spotlight have gotten more pressure due to his own social media popularity, but he intends to use this to his advantage now. With 50,000 followers, that means a lot of potential hunters and anglers to hopefully follow his lead on caring about conservation.
“Because I have that voice and following, I want to use it while I’m still young,” he says.
Nitz says the allure of Florida has always been the beautiful beaches, the inshore waterways, the vast swamps teeming with wildlife, and the resulting fishing and hunting. Without these, and the fish and wildlife they support, all Florida would have left are theme parks and new condos. He sees rampant development and the politics that enable it as the biggest problem Florida’s terrestrial ecosystems face, due to the flood of people moving to the state and too many decision-makers focused more on money than conservation.
“I wish somebody would have wild Florida at heart,” he says of the powers that be. “Right now is the time to act to have any chance of saving the state. And the Everglades are the heartbeat of Florida, so you have to start there. Once they’re gone, it’s all gone.”
Solutions Lie in Teamwork, Targeted Funding
Nitz believes one of the main pathways to conservation is getting organizations and individual hunters and anglers rowing in the same direction.
“It’s a great thing to have organizations like TRCP, because there’s strength in numbers,” he says, referring to the nonprofit’s large following in the sporting community and its connections to partner groups. Like TRCP’s involvement with the Everglades Coalition, a group of almost 60 conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. The coalition’s efforts to restore North America’s largest wetland largely revolve around getting the sporting and conservation communities to notice, and to care.
“That’s really our only chance,” Nitz says. “Get enough people involved and pissed off enough about it that they’ll do something.”
Note: Part 2 of our blog on Ryan Nitz, which will focus on his fishing charter business and risks to giant snook, will appear soon.
Click here to support Everglades conservation efforts by insisting that lawmakers continue to provide funding for critical infrastructure work.
Want to Hunt or Fish with Nitz?
He still does everything through his Instagram account, including respond to inquiries. If you don’t use social media, just type ‘Ryan Nitz’ into Google to find him and request to book a charter. He’ll get back to you between barefoot backwater hunts and midnight snook runs.
Photo credits: All images except of water moccasin courtesy of Ryan Nitz
We know it can be challenging to break through the alphabet soup of program acronyms to understand why the reauthorization and improvement of Farm Bill conservation programs is a top priority. In this short video, we demystify the Farm Bill and the crucial conservations programs that sportsmen and women should care about.
The next few months will be critical for the Farm Bill and the conservation programs we cherish as hunters and anglers. In the face of gridlock, conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Click here to learn what’s next for the Farm Bill.
We don’t make bigger investments in conservation than those in the Farm Bill. Totaling about $6 billion per year it is the single largest investment in conservation that the federal government makes on an annual basis.
Every five years, Congress drafts a new Farm Bill. It’s a massive piece of legislation that supports agricultural producers and ensures hungry families have food on their table. Tucked inside this legislation are crucial conservation programs that incentivize habitat creation, sustainable agriculture, and even access to private land for hunting and fishing. The reauthorization and improvement of these programs is a top priority, not just within the TRCP, but among nearly all our partners and most of the agricultural community.
To our collective disappointment, the 2018 Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2023, without a replacement. Given the importance of Farm Bill conservation programs to hunters and anglers, you might be surprised at the lack of commotion around this expiration. Shouldn’t we all be panicking by now? Here’s what you need to know.
Although the challenges this Farm Bill is facing feel daunting, there is plenty of precedence for a delay. More often than not, Congress is late in passage of Farm Bills. The longest recent process was for the Farm Bill that was signed in 2014 – discussions began in 2011 and it should have been reauthorized in 2012. Both the 2008 and 2018 Farm Bills were several months late as well.
This history of challenges may indicate that passing Farm Bills is getting more difficult, but it also demonstrates that while coalition efforts toward highly bipartisan bills might be slow, they are effective. The first step toward this bipartisanship is the release of House and Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee versions of the bill. All indications are that bills are close to ready, but their release has been delayed by disagreements over funding priorities, as well as general gridlock in the House of Representatives.
The budget reconciliation bill, commonly known as the Inflation Reduction Act or IRA, included nearly $20 billion for climate-smart uses of Farm Bill conservation programs. While this funding is not part of the Farm Bill, the IRA reauthorized several conservation programs through 2031, in addition to providing supplemental funding.
Even if a new Farm Bill or an extension isn’t passed, many practices that benefit hunters and anglers will continue through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Through these programs, wetlands will still be restored and protected, upland habitat will still be managed, and field buffers will still be planted to improve water quality.
Not all of the programs we care about have been spared. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has expired. It is one of our country’s most successful conservation programs and provides tremendous benefits for wildlife and habitat. Existing contracts will continue, but new acres can’t be enrolled. This means that the CRP will slowly, but steadily, shrink until either a new Farm Bill is passed, or the current bill is extended. This can lead to a loss of habitat for countless species across the country. Luckily, relatively few contracts are set to expire in the upcoming months, so the overall picture is a little less bleak.
Another key program for hunters and anglers, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), also suffers from a delayed bill. Funding for VPA-HIP, a crucial Farm Bill program that has opened hundreds of thousands of private acres for walk-in access to hunting and fishing, has historically been distributed once per Farm Bill cycle. The last funds were distributed to states and Tribes in 2020, and without a new Farm Bill private land access programs across the nation will suffer from a lack of much-needed resources.
The next few months will be critical for the Farm Bill and the conservation programs we cherish as hunters and anglers. It is unlikely we’ll see action before mid-November, as Congress works to pass appropriations bills and avert a government shutdown. The broader consequences, especially for programs that support agricultural commodities, would kick in at the end of the calendar year — meaning that Congress will feel increasing pressure to act by that time. The TRCP, and our partners, are working with decision makers in Congress, especially the House and Senate Ag Committees, and USDA to keep hunter and angler priorities top of mind, both in the writing of the next Farm Bill and in the interim.
In the face of gridlock, conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Congress needs to hear that this is important to you. Take action here and stay up to date at trcp.org/farm-bill.
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