When I was first introduced to hunting, it was all about the harvest. I was interested in the opportunity to provide organic meat for my family, and I liked the idea of skipping the grocery store and saving some money on my food budget. I didn’t really understand what conservation meant, nor that my hunting was supporting habitat management efforts across my state and the country.
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As I grew as a hunter, I began to realize what a ripple effect my personal hunting had on the industry as a whole. There was the excise tax on the ammunition I purchased, there was the conservation stamp I purchased with my hunting licenses, and even the raffle tickets I bought to support local groups. In my small, simple way, I was becoming a vital piece in the complex world of animal management and habitat protection.
But it wasn’t enough. Although I was proud to be a hunter and a part of the largest group of conservationists in the world, I wanted to do more. While I enjoyed knowing my efforts were going to help in a big-picture sense, I wanted to be involved in something hands-on and local. I was given the opportunity through a nonprofit I work with here in Cody, Wyoming Disabled Hunters. As a board member, I had been contacted by the Nature Conservancy on Heart Mountain about a hunting/conservation partnership. We would be given the opportunity to pursue grant money to rebuild habitat on the land in exchange for hunting access for our hunters with disabilities. This partnership has turned into a mutually beneficial multi-year project, and it created in my life a continued desire to see projects like this succeed and be available for others to enjoy.
Just a few months ago, I was honored to be invited to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sportsman’s Ramp Up Summit, hosted by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in Washington, D.C. I had heard him speak at a POMA conference last year, when he was a Montana congressman, and I was intrigued to more about a federal office being run by an avid outdoorsman, hunter and angler. I was joined by dozens of other people representing conservation groups, outdoor industry businesses, and other organizations interested in preserving the sportsman’s way of life. It was so encouraging to hear the Secretary say that his priorities included protecting access to public lands and supporting our hunting and fishing heritage for future generations.
I left the summit with a renewed responsibility and recognition that even though I am just one person, I can have a positive impact on conservation in a large way. When I speak with other women in the industry, I find that many are intimidated by the idea and don’t know where to begin to be more involved in conservation efforts. Here are a few tips on looking for opportunities to do more.
Reach out to conservation groups in your state to find out what projects are in progress. Most are always looking for willing volunteers, and getting your hands dirty working on a project is not only a lot of fun, but also a way to experience conservation at work in a visible way. If you can’t find an active project, reach out to your state wildlife management organization to inquire about events and projects throughout your area.
I am blown away by the amount of work being done by national conservation groups and the memberships that support them. For instance, according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, in 1907 there were only 41,000 elk left in North America. Thanks to hunters and the work and money they invest every year, today there are more than 1 million elk in North America. This success story is reflected in sheep (Wild Sheep Foundation), turkey (National Wild Turkey Federation) and duck populations (Ducks Unlimited), as well as dozens of other species. You can be a part of this by joining as a dues-paying member, and furthering your part in conservation efforts across the country.
My efforts in conservation aren’t simply for my own benefit; I want this lifestyle to be protected for my daughter and her children as well. Since Addison was old enough to walk, we’ve taken her with us on camping, fishing and hunting adventures. We’ve taught her to be respectful of the land and the animals we hunt, and appreciative of the chance to enjoy the access we have to public lands. Teach the young people in your life to be good stewards of the blessings we enjoy as outdoorsmen. Look for ways to mentor youth and help to pass on this legacy of conservation.
I may have started hunting because it was a great way to harvest meat, but it come to mean so much more to me. I love the opportunity to be outdoors, I love to challenge my personal limits, and I love to know that I am a part of something so much bigger than myself. Being a hunter and a conservationist isn’t just something that I am involved in. It has become who I am—my entire identity. I challenge you to look for more ways to leave your mark through conservation.
Ashlee Lundvall writes a blog titled "Redefining Life," that follows her rise from a debilitating injury as a teenager to Ms. Wheelchair USA in 2013. Her first book, "A Redefined Life," was released in February of 2016, and she was recently invited to join the National Pro Staff for Mossy Oak and the NRA’s Disabled Shooting Sports committee, and is on the President's Council for Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. Ashlee is also the recipient of the 2017 SCI Foundation Pathfinder Award. Ashlee truly shines as a keynote speaker at outdoor industry and disability related events and conferences. She is passionate about mentoring newly injured patients, and loves to pass on her love for adapted outdoor recreation! View all posts by Ashlee Lundvall
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