Camo at the Capital Speech
Camo at the Capitol
February 3, 2020
Good morning, my name is Matthew Monjaras. This is my first time here and I’m excited to be with you. I am here as a representative of both hunters and anglers and of conservationists.
I grew up fishing for catfish on the Rio Grande River. I kept active and out of trouble by fishing the river and romping the local clear ditches; anything to get me out of the house. I wasn’t enrolled in a program and I didn’t have a mentor or outdoor role model, but I almost wish that I had. The activities that I sought out molded my life and allowed me to grow and develop a sense of pride in my community that was always tied to the river. Whether I was in Las Cruces, Socorro, Los Lunas, or Albuquerque, the river was the constant and the grounding force in my life.
When my family moved to Albuquerque, I immediately took to the river off Montano. As I began to make friends, I was surprised to find out that many of them had never been to the river to fish for catfish, swim in the stained water, or fish the clear ditches for trout. The river gave me something to share with them.
When I was in 9th grade in 1999 I was fortunate to be placed in Mrs. Smart’s AP Biology classroom. In ’99 we were on the cusp of the No Child Left Behind era and of standardized curriculum and testing. Mrs. Smart wanted to take our class on a trip and was met with roadblocks and hurtles because of the curriculum and budget issues. She was denied access to a bus for the trip. Instead of letting the restriction stop her, my classmates and I hydrated, and she led us on a hike down the sandy arroyo all the way to the river where we threw cast nets and learned about warm water species in the river and the resources we all had available in our own backyard. She taught me to think like a biologist and she identified my interest and helped to nurture it. After that semester Mrs. Smart wrote me a letter of recommendation for a position at the Rio Grande Ecology Institute. She helped me get my first job as a conservationist. At the Rio Grande Ecology Institute, I worked with Ranger Rob and took water samples, collected and analyzed leaf litter, did data collection, studied the eating habits of bullfrogs, and learned about invasive species. The job opened my eyes to habitat, ecosystems, and the impact I could have on the river.
Now that you know where the foundation for my passion for the Rio Grande River has grown from, I’d like to talk about my growing concerns about decisions that are being made without the representation of concerned sportsmen and women.
Over my time growing up on the river from southern to central New Mexico, I developed a collection of places that yielded big fish and limits of waterfowl. These places are special to me and I have relied on them and kept their locations close to the cuff. One of “my spots” was in the area just north of the Los Lunas bridge. An area that is no longer huntable as of just a few months ago. As I’ve seen the population grow, old farms become sub-divisions, and river access get denied, I realize that in order to keep my cherished secret spots huntable, I will have to share them to help protect them. We don’t need to map out specific hunting locations, we need to protect the rights of hunters throughout the entire Middle Rio Grande Valley. With increased complaints of spent shells and trash along the river, unsafe discharging of firearms on ditches that are close to newly developed homes, and other negative misconceptions of hunters, the availability of land to hunt is in jeopardy. The people that are lobbying to decrease hunting access do not share our passion for the culture, they do not understand our way of life and connection to the land, and they do not see the importance of protecting these spaces for the activities that brought communities to the valley in the first place.
We can look at this in two ways: as a loss of honey holes and secret spots or as an opportunity and a call to action. We need to set aside land within our communities that foster pride, involvement, and a foundation for community leadership. We can do this by engaging youth in activities within their own back yards through participation in meaningful outdoor opportunities and education.
The need for developing a new management structure that promotes responsible use and community involvement and that puts education at the forefront is ultimately the most important thing if we are going to protect this way of life and the land for future generations. If we put education and the next generation of hunters, anglers, and conservationists first, while adjusting the planning structure, we will foster a system that will grow as our communities do.
I know what you are thinking; there are youth programs in New Mexico, there are youth ponds at Bernardo. But the way I see it, without a strong educational program to back up hunting and fishing activities we are missing out on a valuable opportunity to engage the next generation in an outdoor education setting.
If a kid goes on a duck hunt they can either go to a blind and shoot at some ducks, which is a great way to spend a morning and make memories, or, they can learn about the habitat over which they are hunting, they can learn about the species that they are hunting and the fly way that they are in that makes the Middle Rio so rich. They can do beak to tail measurements and data collection. By thinking like a biologist while in the blind or during a day of fishing, or while tracking turkeys, an educational program can construct a foundation for stewardship of the land and appreciation of resources that we are so lucky to have here in New Mexico.
We need days like today with Camo at the Capitol because we need involvement and collaboration. The need for preservation and management of these resources within our communities is here and we have an opportunity to grow something great here in New Mexico.
Thank you, Jesse for putting this event together and to the other speakers who share my passion for the outdoors.