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By Kristy Filbin

One of the most successful conservation programs over the last 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is set to expire at the end of this month. Honestly, I had no idea this program even existed until a few weeks ago – and now it’s going to go away?! We can’t let that happen.

I am a newcomer to identifying as a sportswomen and conservationist. Guided by my husband and encouraged by Artemis (the nation’s fastest growing organization of sportswomen), I am amazed that at 44 I am not done growing.  What respect I have for the people and entities wanting to preserve, what in my mind one cannot live without; freedom.  But that is the beauty of living in this country, we can start our lives in one place as one thing, and then develop it into something so much more.

When I think of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Joni Mitchell lyrics pop into my head, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone…” I grew up in Washington State playing soccer at Salmon Creek Park, and picnicking at Lewisville Park, both sites were supported by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. I never wondered how these places came to be, they were just there in my life, as the backdrop of my fondest childhood memories.

Fast forward 25 years I reside in New Mexico spending the bulk of my weekends not on the manicured grass of my childhood, but in the backcountry. Now fully aware of this treasure and fully aware of it being threatened. I feel humbled, I feel called to action. The Gila Wilderness, the world’s first designated Wilderness, this is my Land and Water Conservation site now. This is my soccer field, this is my park, this is the setting where I am lucky enough to continue making my fondest memories.

Two years ago, I was under a juniper tree watching the glistening tips of an elk as he came screaming up the hill ready to mate, lured by my husband’s cow calls. This was like every YouTube video I have watched in preparation after drawing a quality hunt in the Gila forest. I could not believe how I got there. Just 15 minutes prior I was eating a salami sandwich, 4 years ago I shot a firearm for the first time, 7 years ago I caught my first fish, 15 years ago I didn’t even eat meat.

I was on the verge of my first harvest and I was reflecting on whether I was truly prepared. I feel that if am going to eat meat, I owe it to the animal to be involved in the entire process. He turned; 30 yards broadside. I followed him through my scope looking for the zone, and then the scope went black. I didn’t clear the limbs from the tree.

This was not the moment I imagined, he was literally walking away. The bull, a 5×5 was going to circle my husband, get his scent and then we would never see him again. I moved from my position as soon as he walked behind a juniper. Again, I marveled, “how did I get here?”

I was here because of my mentor, my husband. He has patiently shared with me a love for all things wild, from identifying birds that visit our feeders, to knowing the names of the mountain flowers, to following insect hatches for optimal fly-fishing. He has given me the ultimate gift; the communion, the test, the triumph, and the beauty of experiencing our public lands.

I was crouched on a rock, the bull sensed me, he stopped. I saw his elbow, the kill zone. I brought the crosshairs onto the zone and pulled the trigger.

From sea level to 7000 ft, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been under my feet sharing in my journey.  My path through life wended all the way to that moment and upon reflection the Land and Water Conservation Fund was a constant, it was the background not readily discernable but always there. We can’t let this program expire and we need Congress to act to permanently renew it because we will feel it’s loss if it’s gone.