The Thrill of the Outdoors Ignited Within Me Through the Art of Hunting and Fishing

As we reflect on Latino Conservation Week, let's continue to support communities getting into the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources.

  • Shaun Sanchez, Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest.
  • Jul 26, 2023

Growing up, my family had a deep-rooted passion for raising livestock, particularly cattle. We also kept rabbits and pigs on our ranch, and this way of life became an essential aspect of our identity. But for me, the thrill of the outdoors ignited within me through the art of hunting and fishing. 

I come from a small place on the map called Buena Vista in northern New Mexico, where my family has lived for nine generations since the first Spanish settlement outside Santa Fe. Even today, we own a small ranch in Mora County. Growing up, I discovered a deep love for hunting, fishing, and camping, which allowed me to connect with nature. My dad and his friends would often prioritize going out to hunt and fish, providing me with ample opportunities to develop my passion. 

I vividly remember a story my dad tells about how, as a kid, I would lock myself in the pickup truck with the keys whenever we had to leave the mountains on a Sunday afternoon. There would be a lot of crying and begging on both sides, with me not wanting to leave and my dad trying to coax me out. But that shows how much I felt at home outdoors, particularly in the mountains of northern New Mexico. 

As a child, I had another memorable experience while hunting with one of my dad's friends. We were walking through the mountains when he instructed me to sit on a rock and be very still and quiet. As we sat near White’s Peak, a small group of four or five mule deer approached us curiously, sniffing around. I was careful not to move so as not to scare them. This experience is etched in my mind, and I can still recall the smells and sounds of that up-close interaction with the deer. 

During my younger years, I often joked about pursuing a biology degree and becoming a welder, following my father's welding business in Las Vegas, New Mexico. However, I was unaware of the vast career opportunities in conservation. Fortunately, I was sitting in a genetics lab one day when my professor asked if anyone was interested in wildlife biology. With my hand raised, she presented an application for the Career Awareness Institute program, a 12-week internship offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

My first field assignment that summer was at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Tucson, near the Mexican border. I remember we raised endangered masked bobwhite quail and released them on the refuge while also improving their habitat through restoration work. 

We cared for mother quails and their eggs, nurturing them until they hatched and raised their young ones. I fondly remember that summer when I realized I was being paid for something I loved doing. Starting early in the morning, I kept track of quail, tended to their needs, and used radio telemetry to monitor their movements. It was then that I knew that the conservation field was where I belonged and what I wanted to pursue.  

After completing a few internships, I landed my first permanent job at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge following graduation from New Mexico Highlands University. This was just the beginning of my conservation career, as I held various positions in different states, including Oklahoma, Texas, Alaska, Nevada, and Georgia, eventually becoming the deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the Southeast. I then moved to Washington, D.C., where I served as the deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the last eight years.  

I recently returned to my home in Northern New Mexico and now work as the Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest, completing a full circle in my career journey. My responsibility is to lead a team that stewards the national forest lands. The Forest is divided into five districts, each with its district ranger responsible for on-the-ground implementation. My job is to establish and implement a vision, priorities, and expectations for the forest. I emphasize that our priority is to know and relate to the communities we serve and be an asset to them.  

As we steward forest lands, we must do so through the lens of how we can assist the people in northern New Mexico. Many of them still rely on the forest for their livelihood, such as firewood for heating their homes or grazing their cattle to feed their families. Therefore, it's my task to navigate the rules, regulations, and policies and ensure we achieve the objective of being a community asset. It's an incredible feeling to work in conservation, especially coming back home. 

The land here is close to my heart, and I'm passionate about helping my community. 

I often reflect on the profound Indigenous knowledge and wisdom shared by our Pueblo partners. Unlike how we frequently view forest trees as commodities, it has been shared with me that they view land and its components as living beings and relatives. They emphasize the importance of living and working in harmony with nature. Similarly, the Hispanic community in northern Mexico has maintained a harmonious relationship with the land for generations. Incorporating these diverse perspectives, values, and voices is crucial to honor and respect the people we serve. 

Despite holding various positions, my proudest title is being a father to my five children and husband to my wife Maria. It's important to me to instill in them a love for the land and the outdoors. We've moved around quite a bit, and all my children were born in different places. My oldest Amani was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico; my second oldest Senaida was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico; my third Soliz was born in Socorro, New Mexico; my fourth Andres was born in Baytown, Texas; and my youngest Emilio was born in Bethel, Alaska. 

Throughout our journey, we made it a priority to spend time outdoors and immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature. Whether it was hunting and fishing in New Mexico, camping in Georgia, or falling in love with saltwater fishing, they have all found their own unique connections and interests. In Alaska, we spent a lot of time on our boat, fishing for salmon and I went moose hunting on the Yukon with Soliz, who has a deep passion for it. 

My daughter Senaida joined us on a hunting trip to Wyoming for pronghorns. Now that we're back in New Mexico, Emilio and Andres are always eager to go fishing, and my Amani loves camping. It's an incredible feeling to be out there together, observing wildlife and learning. My wife and I, along with our children, all cherish the outdoors and the harvest it provides, whether it's through fishing or hunting. 

As a wise person once said, we tend to protect and cherish the things we love, understand, and can experience. This is precisely why spending time outdoors and immersing oneself in nature is crucial for conservation efforts. I firmly believe that people need to feel, taste, see, hear, and smell nature to truly appreciate and connect with the outdoors. 

When reflecting on the values of the Latino community, I am reminded of our strong connection to the land and our emphasis on family and community. It is imperative that we have more Latino representation in managing our lands and waters. I urge everyone to take the opportunity to visit our national forests and appreciate the natural beauty they offer. These lands were established for everyone's enjoyment and appreciation.  

During Latino Conservation Week (July 15-23), I encouraged people to recognize the value of our forests and participate in activities like hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, or volunteering with their families. Let's all work together to give back and get involved in preserving our natural resources. 

Shaun began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999. He has served in a variety of positions at 10 national wildlife refuges in eight states, including Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Oklahoma. Before taking his current position, he was deputy chief for the Refuge System’s Southeast Region and, more recently, chief of budget, performance and workforce at Refuge System headquarters.

Formed in 2013, Hispanics Enjoying Camping Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for future generations. We provide a platform for Hispanics/Latinos to contribute knowledge and perspectives about public land conservation. From southwestern deserts to northern forestland, Hispanics/Latinx throughout America have a strong connection to our nation's diverse landscapes. We urge our elected and appointed leaders to safeguard our precious public lands, so that our children can enjoy fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, and other outdoor activities for generations to come.

During Latino Conservation Week, community, non-profit, faith-based, and government organizations and agencies hold events throughout the country. From hiking and camping to community roundtables and film screenings, these activities promote conservation efforts in their community, and provide an opportunity for Latinos to show their support for permanently protecting our land, water, and air. 

This was originally published on the HECHO blog page during Latino Conservation Week 2023. Read more inspiring stories HERE!

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The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now. 

Tell Congress to Pass the Great American Outdoors Act and Fully Fund LWCF!