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A Talk on the Wild Side.

One African American Family’s Story about Their Love of the Outdoors and Hunting

 2 photos. Left: man in black coat, knit cap that says Maryland Hunter Education Instructor. Right: Young Man stands in water holding harvested goose Gary Monroe (left) and son Javier. All photos courtesy the Monroes

Waterfowl hunting is an incredibly important part of our conservation history and an essential part of the work we do in the U.S. Fish and  Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program. We manage the Federal Duck Stamp Program, one of the most successful conservation programs ever created. Since 1934, this conservation revenue stamp, required for every waterfowl hunter, has raised more than $1 billion (yes that is billion with a “b”) in sales that has been used to conserve more than 6 million acres of wetlands. We also collect data through monitoring programs to set hunting limits for waterfowl hunters every year. As the federal leader managing waterfowl populations across the country, we work to ensure that ducks and geese can sustain healthy populations and still afford invaluable experiences to Americans who enjoy hunting.

There are an estimated 11.5 million Americans who hunt in the United States and fewer than 2.3 million waterfowl hunters. It’s estimated that 11.1 percent of the white population hunts, but fewer than 2 percent of hunters are African American, Asian or Hispanic. We recently spoke to an African American father and son who share a love of the outdoors and recreational hunting. Gary is an avid outdoorsman and son Javier shares that connection with his dad. We asked them a series of questions to learn about their connection to the outdoors and celebrate their stories.

1) How did you first get into hunting? Who introduced you into hunting?

Gary: I was introduced to hunting by a co-worker of mine while in college, Danny. His family was originally from West Virginia, and he inherited 400 acres of family land from his grandparents. He talked about hunting all the time and invited me to his property. I wasn’t so interested in hunting at that time, but I was an avid outdoorsman and fisherman growing up. This attraction was instilled within me from my time growing up as a former Cub Scout and Webelo (We Be Loyal Scouts). This connection, and introduction to hunting, forged a very strong friendship for us, so much so that Danny is now the godfather to my son. We are still close friends to this day.

Javier: From as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature — something about self-sustaining natural life just fascinated me and I was hooked. I first got into hunting at a young age with my father. I was 12 years old on my first hunt, and I couldn’t stop asking my dad when we would go again.

2) What do you love most about hunting?

 2 photos. Left: man in orange hunter safety best, camo balaclava. Right: Young Man stands in water holding harvested geeseGary Monroe (left) is ready for the hunt. Javier with geese.

Gary: Hunting allows me the opportunity to relax from everyday stress. I enjoy the scenery — watching wildlife undisturbed, plants and the natural patterns of nature. For me it’s not the harvest that is most important, but the calm and peace that I have. It’s almost like meditation, in my solitary moments, sitting still and quiet while in the woods.

Javier: I think what I love most about hunting is just to see the animals in relationship to each other, and their ecosystem. It beats watching Animal Planet by 10! You see the coolest things in the woods, and the more time you spend out there, the more Mother Nature shows you how awesome she is.

3) Do you know a lot of African Americans who like to hunt?

Gary: I’ve met quite a few over the years, and I’ve personally introduced even more to hunting. It’s a bond, something like a fraternity of brothers. When I became a Maryland state hunter and gun safety instructor, I was able to reach a few other African Americans with interests in hunting and conservation in general. I’ve also been a member of the Izaak Walton League of America for seven years in Maryland, where I get together with other nature lovers.

Javier: Outside of my family, I have met some good friends who also hunt and share a love for the outdoors the same as me. I still wouldn’t say it is a lot, but I do know quite a few.

4) According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, less than 2 percent of African Americans in the U.S. participate in hunting, whereas an estimate 11 percent of whites hunt. Why do you think that is?

Gary: I think that it’s mostly because of exposure. Most Black Americans reside within or near inner city limits: urban populated areas. At least that’s my perspective from where I live now and grew up. Most of their activities center around neighborhood clubs, centers or playgrounds, so club sports like basketball, football, baseball and soccer are where they mostly concentrate their attention. You see limited wildlife growing up in the city, and the wildlife you do see, most don’t associate with consumption. Most city dwellers have a healthy fear of wild animals and a lack of respect for their habitat at the same time.

  young man in boat holding fish

Javier: Well, when you look at where the highest concentrated areas for African Americans, you’ll find that a lot of us are from inner cities where hunting and fishing isn’t looked at as a common activity. I think the most common introduction to hunting or fishing is through a relative or a parent. When you have generations of family coming from places like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, as a product of your environment in urban areas, I believe that odds are low of a person getting into these activities. However, I do not believe they are incapable of falling in love with it the same way I did. I know this for a fact to be true because whenever I take a friend that I met in college or high school out fishing or hunting, nine times out of 10 they are instantly hooked. It reminds me of when my dad first took me fishing and hunting; after that first time, I begged him to take me back out every chance I got. My friends do the same, regardless of where they’re from.

5) What can we at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service do to help change that?

Gary: USFWS should produce more campaigns focused toward inner city children and teens. USFWS could also use media which depicts images of African Americans and show them that blacks are involved in hunting and fishing. Sponsor programs that will take them out on their first hunt. Present opportunities to introduce them to learning about land, plants and water, and the importance of sustainability and conservation and how it effects their own environments. You can also campaign about how healthier and more cost effective it is to harvest your own foods. Support programs that also teach wilderness survival and foraging from the land. Above all else, gun safety and proper handling. Create more shooting sports programs targeted toward Black Americans with long guns as the focus. Establish USFWS nature tours on federal properties that would simulate a hunt, where they can see wildlife and learn what to do and not to do, with the protection of an experienced guide.

Javier: First and foremost, I appreciate that you are at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and are actually asking me what I think. Thanks so much! Second, I’ve heard about the programs that you guys have started offering for inner-city kids to get outdoors like the one you did for the kids in Philadelphia at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge [at Tinicum]. I’ve never been to that particular refuge, but I have been to Patuxent Research Refuge to go fishing, and I think that’s a great idea to reach out to them — the younger the better. Aside from my dad, I was blessed to be able to attend a great summer day camp program where the director loved to take the children fishing. We picked and ate natural organic raspberries and blackberries and endless field trips like visits to pumpkins patches and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay. Both my dad and my summer camp director were great influences for me and have a lot to do with my appreciation for nature and the outdoors to this day. I am a believer and feel that I serve as testimony to starting kids at a young age can make all the difference.

6) What advice do you have for African Americans today to explore hunting as a recreational activity?

Gary: I would advise anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to explore nature and wildlife to first start by taking a free hunter safety course. Ask lots of questions about any and everything involving the sport. Go out to supporting regional and federal parks and learn to scout and find wildlife signs. Bring a friend, family members or friends with you when you go.

Javier: The best advice I can give, is to just go out and try it! And tell a friend!

We hope that as you read Gary’s and Javier’s words, that by them sharing their story, it can encourage others to share theirs. We are continuing to reach out, listen, learn and take action. Help us tell the stories in an effort to celebrate the diversity of people who already love the outdoors, in order to inspire more people of all backgrounds to connect with the outdoors. From hunting to hiking to camping to birding, it’s time we ensure that all people feel welcome enjoying outdoor activities.

By Valerie Fellows/USFWS

Federal Wildlife Canine Team Locates Key Evidence In Whooping Crane Case

   dog lying in front of 2 people, one searching marsh grass, one holding bagFederal Wildlife Canine Cajun after a successful search. Photo by USFWS

Federal Wildlife Canine Officer (FWCO) Chris Hoag and Federal Wildlife Canine (FWC) Cajun assisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries with an investigation of two poached endangered whooping cranes that recently led to the toughest sentence ever in Louisiana for a crime involving one of these birds.

In May 2016, an alert was received by Louisiana personnel from a GPS transmitter that led them to a location where they found two killed whooping cranes. One of the bird’s legs had been cut off, and the bands and transmitters were missing.

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FWS’s Houston Urban Doesn’t Let Pandemic Stop Environmental Education

  young people in face masks gather behind one sitting on wall with phone The Houston crew takes part in the conference. Photo by SCA

Adjusting to life during a global pandemic has forced us to think even more creatively than before, in an effort to continue fulfilling the mission of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The FWS’s Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement Program had an opportunity to rise to the occasion and provide meaningful conservation experiences to Houston youth in early August.

The Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement Program, Houston Urban for short, works with a variety of partners to help connect the city of Houston to nature. We’re so grateful for our partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The summer season is typically one of the busiest times for SCA, as students fill internships all over the country and youth participate in national and community crews. As an SCA alumna, the nonprofit holds a special place in my heart and played a significant role in my career path.

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Retired FWS Special Agent Tom Chisdock Recognized for an Outstanding Career

   man standing outsideThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tom Chisdock was honored today by receiving the 2020 Guy Bradley Award. Named for the first wildlife officer killed in the line of duty, Guy Bradley, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) annually presents this prestigious award to one state and one federal recipient “to recognize extraordinary individuals who have made an outstanding lifetime contribution to wildlife law enforcement, wildlife forensics or investigative techniques.”

Tom began his conservation law enforcement career as a National Park Service park ranger in 1987 and retired from the Service in December of 2019. In 1995, he became an Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) special agent where he conducted numerous complex overt and covert investigations into the domestic and international commercial trafficking of U.S. native wildlife.

Throughout his 33-year career, Tom’s investigations resulted in more than 50 arrests and the majority yielded felony prosecutions. Defendants were sentenced to almost 200 years in prison or probation and ordered to pay nearly $856,000 in fines, forfeitures, and restitution.

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Saving Elephants, Even Their Toenails

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Stephanie Johnson

   small table with elephant foot as baseThis is just one of about 1.3 million items housed at the National Wildlife Property Repository. Photo by USFWS

As the August 12 celebration of World Elephant Day falls upon us, I cannot help but take the time to reflect on my own experiences in the long-standing global fight against the illegal killing of elephants. I have not set foot in Africa or Asia, nor have I ever been able to watch a live wild elephant trudge its way through a jungle or savannah. However, images of those trudging giants flooded my mind as I stood in the center of my office holding a large elephant toenail in my hands. The box I pulled it from was packed densely with what appeared to be tea leaves, and I noted two other smaller toenails nestled within.

The toenails came as a little surprise to me. Ivory has always been the standard “treasure” plucked from elephants and used for trinkets, statues, pianos and a whole host of other items that symbolize “status.” Until I saw the elephant toenails, it hadn't quite occurred to me that other elephant parts can be just as valuable.

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Sharks Should Be Respected, Not Feared

   hammerhead sharkScalloped hammerhead sharks are internationally protected. Photo by NOAA

Sharks have long gripped our fascination and swum in the ocean before dinosaurs roamed the earth. However, such factors as climate change, ocean pollution, overfishing and fin poaching now leave some species of sharks facing extinction in parts of the world.

Why do we need to protect sharks?

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A Loss of Life to One is a Loss of Life to All in the Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking

By Keith Swindle, USFWS Special Agent Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya

Group photo of Rangers at National Park in Kenya. Credit: Virunga / National-Park

A group of rangers at Virunga National Park. Photo Credit: Virunga National Park


Wildlife rangers hold some of the most dangerous jobs on earth. For example, since the opening of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 200 rangers have been killed while performing their duties protecting the park lands and the wildlife that live there.  Recently, there was a devasting attack near the park, which led to the tragic loss of life of 17 rangers, community members, and park staff. 

 

Countless others working in wildlife law enforcement put their lives on the line every day to counter trafficking, protect vulnerable wildlife from the threat of poaching, and conserve some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. 

Cheetah sitting in a open prairie of short dry grass in Kenya. Credit: Andrey Naumov / Creative Common

A cheetah, one of many iconic species found in Kenya. Photo Credit: Andey Naumov/Creative Commons

 

One of the proudest moments I have had working as a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took place in 2013, when I learned that the Service provided financial assistance to the families of fallen rangers in Africa - this action inspired ongoing support to our partners around the world. Shortly thereafter, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) lost several rangers in a firefight with poachers. The assistant director of the Office of Law Enforcement penned a letter of condolence to his counterpart, the deputy director of security at KWS, and I was able to hand deliver it to KWS leadership during a visit to Nairobi in August 2013. 

The tearful reaction of the KWS deputy director profoundly humbled me.  He said, "We get letters daily from people around the world about how worried they are about rhinos and elephants.  This is the first letter I've ever received expressing concern for our people that we are losing in this war.”  He went on to say that KWS had lost six rangers to that point in 2013. 

A White Rhino standing near Lake Nakura in Kenya. Credit: Roger Smith / Creative Commons

White rhino at Lake Nakuru in Kenya's Rift Valley. Photo Credit: Roger Smith/Creative Commons

 

As a wildlife law enforcement officer, we believe that a loss of life to any of us is a loss of life to all of us.  Even though most of us have never met, we are a global family united by our love for wildlife and our common fight against wildlife trafficking.  I remain humbled by the commitment of our fellow stewards of wildlife in Africa, Asia and around the world and by our continued support to conservation partners abroad. The work of conservation holds many challenges and dangers to those who commit their life’s work to it, and it is through our support that we honor their commitment to our beautiful world and to humanity. 

Happy Latino Conservation Week

During Latino Conservation Week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invites you to learn a little bit about a few of the conservationists of tomorrow. Below are mini-biographies of the interns secured by the Service in 2020 through our partnership with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). We welcome and thank our HAF Interns, especially during Latino Conservation Week!

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Working with the Hispanic Access Foundation to Bring in Talent like Ariel Martinez

young  woman teaching kids

As the nation’s make-up changes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is privileged to partner with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) to ensure that our next generation of conservationists looks like America. 

A program with HAF draws talented, diverse college students and recent graduates to the Service and, if all goes well, careers in conservation. 

   young woman selfie

We wanted to highlight the program during Latino Conservation Week, and one of the fellows this year, 23-year-old Paula Ariel Martinez. Despite her fellow status, Ariel is no Service novice, having interned at National Wildlife Refuges before. Here is her story:

I was originally planning on being a lawyer before I stumbled into AP Environmental Science as a junior in high school. It was an Advanced Placement class that fit into my schedule and didn’t seem quite as scary as AP Chemistry or AP Statistics. I had no idea that it would change my life.

I had always had a connection to the outdoors: fishing with my dad, climbing trees, family cookouts, etc. But I had never put it together that I could have a career in the environmental field because my idea of an environmentalist ranged from Steve Irwin calling alligators “beaut’” to people -- with long blond hair and flowing clothes -- chaining themselves to trees.

AP Environmental Science taught me that there is a lot of important middle ground between those two representations.

   young woman holding bird

I went into college knowing that I wanted to work in the environmental field, but with no real idea where to start. Winter break of my first year, I began looking for internship opportunities that would help me understand more about the field and what I wanted to do in the future. Just one problem: All of them were either unpaid or meant for upperclassmen and recent graduates.

I could not afford to do a whole summer of unpaid work, regardless of its importance to my future. Luckily, I found the Hispanic Access Foundation. I applied and was among the first cohort of U.S. Fish and Wildlife HAF interns.

   young woman holding fish

My first internship was at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Massachusetts. It was right down the road from Smith College, where I attended, so I knew the area even though I had never been there before. I was able to experience different aspects of working for FWS, and it sparked my interest in a federal career.

   young woman holding nets over shoulder,plastic bins in hands

My second internship was at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Basom, New York, and it was nothing less than transformative. I really got to dive into environmental outreach and interpretation. I discovered a deep passion for reframing natural resource careers as a reality for black and brown youth. I did five Latino Conservation Week events that summer in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, reaching more than 400 young people.

RELATEDSummer at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

Over the next two years, I worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Forest Service. Each of those experiences helped me develop professional skills and empowered me to continue my quest for a federal career.

I am currently doing a yearlong fellowship at the FWS headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia (although due to global events, it’s more like doing a yearlong fellowship at the FWS headquarters in my living room).

young woman on nature  walk with kids

It is hard sometimes as a fellow to have my ideas, my dreams, my visions for the future condensed into six to 12 months at a time. However, rather than losing hope, I have become even more determined to be an agent of change.

I believe in the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service – to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people – and the vision it has for the future. One of the whole reasons I started down the natural resources path in the first place was because of the opportunity I had with FWS. That is why I won’t give up. My goal is to overcome all barriers and become a bridge for those who follow, so we can provide a continuing benefit for all American people. 

By Paula Ariel Martinez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Despite Pandemic, National Fish Hatcheries Get the Job Done

handful of people around pond   Fishing is popular these days. Photo by USFWS

As the country begins to reopen, responsible outdoor recreation is needed to support our nation’s social and economic recoveries. Fishing is one activity that may be enjoyed alone or with others while keeping a responsible social distance apart. It also supports local businesses such as tackle shops, boat rentals, guide services, motels, and local diners and restaurants. 

Visiting a National Fish Hatchery System (NFHS) facility is an ideal way to spend quality time outdoors because many offer picnic tables, on-site fishing opportunities, walking paths, walking tours, and more.  And don’t be surprised if you hear the joyous sounds of small children as they throw fish food into the water and see the fish swim to the surface for their own picnic.

VISIT: Find a Hatchery Near You

For almost 150 years, NFHS staff has worked collaboratively with tribes, states, landowners, partners and stakeholders to promote and maintain healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species. They work with almost 100 fish species and in 2019, NFH staff stocked more than 109 million fish for recreational public fishing.

In years past, stocking lakes, rivers and streams could be challenging, but never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hatchery staff developed new methods to stock hatchery-raised fish, while staying safe.

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