Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida
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Female veterans find a new home in the outdoors

Tallahassee, FL (December 29, 2020) – With women accounting for 10% of the United States’ military, veteran organizations are finding creative ways to be more inclusive. One such organization is Operation Outdoor Freedom (OOF), thanks to a $26,700 grant from the nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

OOF helps wounded or disabled veterans reconnect with the outdoors through whitetail deer and turkey hunts. The participants used to be exclusively male, but five female veterans have recently joined hunts in Backwater River State Forest. Marna Tracy, who served in the Army, was visiting the Florida State Fair in 2016 when she saw OOF’s booth promoting a gator hunt. “I did not grow up hunting, but I was immediately attracted to the thrill,” said Tracy. After that first gator hunt she was hooked and has since participated in several other trips with OOF, including a recent bow hunt where she was the only person to get a deer.

While it was not a barrier for Tracy, OOF did not have a separate housing facility for the female hunters during her trips. Enter the foundation, which is helping to construct a women’s dormitory for up to seven women at Blackwater River State Forest.

“The dorm will provide more private accommodations for seven people as opposed to the bunkhouse-style, wide open lodging we have now,” said Joe Zwierzchowski, OOF coordinator for the Blackwater Forestry Center which covers Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in Northwest Florida. “We’re excited to be able to offer more opportunities to veterans, female veterans especially. There’s a certain perspective they bring to the table that the guys just don’t have. Whether they’re brand new to hunting or have been across the country hunting everything, it’s always fun, always an adventure.”

The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida has long supported outdoor programs for returning veterans, including previous OOF programs, said foundation president & CEO Andrew Walker. “Operation Outdoor Freedom has been one of our most effective partners, and we feel privileged to support them and their mission.”

Funds for the grant came from the foundation’s Wildlife Foundation of Florida license plate, which contains the image of a deer. Twenty-five dollars from each purchased plate supports protection and management of lands open to public hunting, hunting safety programs and training in archery and other shooting sports.

About Operation Outdoor Freedom

Supported by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nicole “Nikki” Fried and led by the Florida Forest Service, Operation Outdoor Freedom provides recreational and rehabilitative opportunities to wounded veterans on state forests, agricultural lands and private lands throughout Florida at no cost. Learn more at FDACS.gov/OperationOutdoorFreedom.

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