Crossing Community Lines

lindsay fishing with her dog on the river

When it comes to the outdoors, Lindsey Elliott does it all- climbing, mountain biking, hunting, fly fishing, raising chickens, growing food, practicing citizen science, and running a business, Wylder Goods. Because she has perspective from multiple and oftentimes separate communities, we asked Lindsey to share her thoughts from the cross-section.

You’ve spoken before about being a member of a “new generation of hunters and anglers.” What can you tell us about this new generation from your point of view?

There is a growing number of newcomers to the hunting and angling side of the outdoor industry. I, am one of them. Though I grew up fishing, I joined the fly fishing community 4 years ago, and started big game hunting 3 years ago after decades of climbing, skiing, trail running, rafting and backpacking. I am an urban, female entrepreneur and first-generation hunter with a background in ecology and agriculture, and consider myself part of a growing population of ‘anomalies’ in the recreation sector. I’d say I’m a walking experiment for people’s tolerance of the image of hunting, and their preconceived notions and stereotypes about who a hunter is, what they look like, and what their values might be.

Living between these worlds has been a multi-year experiment. When I began my foray into hunting, I decided to share the process. I wrote openly about my experiences, my motivations, the difficulties, and the results. I expected angry comments to flood my corners of the internet. Generally, I’ve found support in the outdoor community and with my peers where I expected controversy. As my own fears and judgements melt away around who a ‘hunter’ is in America, I find more and more diversely talented people with fascinating stories to tell and experiences to share about their lifelong paths of learning in the field. Groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have been great resources for finding allied, passionate participants in the industry and its conservation ethics. That said, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to deconstructing the ‘norms’ and stereotypes around these ways of life.

Why do you think this generation is emerging now?

One of the most unifying aspects of humanity is food, and right now, there is a growing demand for knowing where our food comes from. I spent years in a factory-farmed meat rebellion, followed by years raising and processing my own animals for food. I am witnessing a similar curiosity and disillusionment in industrial agriculture in many of my peers that I had. With the numerous lifestyle and financial barriers to raising one’s own meet via farming and ranching, people are turning to hunting to source food they can trust and have some kind of connection to.

Additionally powerful is the cross-sector ally-ship amid the movement to protect public lands. All outdoors-people are dependent on their existence for recreation. The grassroots effort by these communities to keep public lands public, is absolutely the largest bi-partisan environmental activist effort I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Inherent is this movement, is the requirement to acknowledge other user groups, and learn to respect their existence.

mule deer quarters hanging in bags

Given you’ve climbed, skied, hunted, and fished, what is your perspective on the dualities of what’s been considered consumptive and non-consumptive activities?

There is a long-standing debate amongst recreationalists about whose impact is more detrimental to wildlife and ecosystem health. The most common narrative I hear is that the ‘hook and bullet’ types are ‘taking’ from the land when we hunt and fish and therefore owe more. On most purchases for hunting and fishing (licenses, tackle, etc.) there is an excise tax that aggregates federal funds states can then apply for to enact conservation research, protect land, etc. This is why you hear hunters adamantly say, ‘we’re paying for this’ when it comes to conservation. To date, no such taxes exist for the skiing, biking, or climbing sectors.

This year I participated in a citizen science program that studied the wildlife urban interface along the Wasatch front in Salt Lake City. Early results of the study show that when human activity is high, animals change their behavior patterns. There is a noticeable change in animal behavior on weekends in the Wasatch Mountains, specifically in deer, elk and moose, known as the ‘weekend effect.’ This study is showing me that we need to reframe the way we think about our impact. While we may be practicing ‘leave no trace’ principles, an activity like a 24-hour ultramarathon is causing significant disturbance to animal behavior in the ecosystem. Our presence, no matter the activity, has a measured effect on animal behavior.

tent camping with light under starry sky

Do you see a less divided future ahead?

My hope is that as recreationalists, we can reframe our notion of ‘impact’ on the ecosystem, to develop a shared land ethic. The simple distinction of who the ‘takers’ are, isn’t enough when it comes bridging recreational impact and biodiversity.

Additionally, I think the hunting industry needs a new reputation, built by new leaders, new role models, and compelling storytelling that shares the complexities and empathic characteristics of its members. For most of us, hunting is a deeply vulnerable and emotional experience, but that is infrequently shared in a historically male-dominated and masculine culture. I would love to see more films, preferably with diverse gender representation and background, sharing the long-term processes and dedication hunters go through to get the chance at harvesting an animal. It often takes an entire year of commitment. Most folks have no idea how difficult it is.

lindsay on a snowy peak

How do you see your role within this new generation and it’s future?

The number of licensed hunters has been in slow decline due to urbanization, diminishing access to public and huntable land, and the loss of opportunities for young people to learn hunting. Those educated in wildlife management understand the problems this presents, as hunters are a critical aspect of many habitat and wildlife management plans. While I’m not out to convert folks, building compassion and understanding across user groups based on my unique vantage point is certainly a mission I have to ensure the future of our wildlife populations.

Equally, it is my duty to learn from those who have come before me – to be a steward of our ecosystems, to tread lightly, and to share in the harvest. I hope to carry the best aspects of these traditions forward, while continuing to build the community of educated and compassionate recreationalists around a shared land ethic.