Faces of BHA is a regular column in Backcountry Journal, which spreads light on the incredible volunteers working behind the scenes to ensure the organization succeeds. This installment was published in the Fall 21 issue.
CATHERINE DANAE ELSER
PROSPECT, PENNSYLVANIA Pennsylvania Chapter Board
What brought you to BHA?
I became aware of BHA through professionals and influencers in the hunting and fishing industry. When I researched it and got to know the mission and values, I knew it was an organization I wanted to be a part of, especially since it is such an active organization.
As a member of the Pennsylvania chapter board, what are you most passionate about working on?
The longevity of public lands relies on those who understand their importance, so as a member of the Pennsylvania chapter board, it is my goal to create events through BHA that can engage a wider audience. If we create a welcoming space as an organization for all kinds of people, we lend a larger and louder voice to defend our public lands. Events I am passionate about getting off the ground include family events and art. For example, last December I hosted an online family paint night at which we painted a bear and a deer on ornaments, and it was great to see whole families involved.
Can you tell us how you are using your artwork to bring awareness to public lands and waters and BHA?
Art might not be the first tool one would think about when it comes to conservation, but it has been in service of public lands since the late 19th century when Hudson River School painters sent from the West majestic views on canvas. More recently, one might think of the duck stamp, whose art competition opened in 1949 and still runs today. I’m proud to be part of a legacy of art in the outdoors, whose history is long and still embedded in sporting life and public lands and waters. Art opens doors for conversations about conservation.
I have been fortunate enough as a wildlife artist to use my art in service of public lands as an Artist-in-Residence. I was AiR in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon in 2019, then Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona in 2020, and this year I will be creating in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan. My focus this year will be on Michigan’s state fish, the brook trout. And like the other parks, the sculpture I make will stay with the park. It is an engaging experience and a joy to interact with visitors explaining what I do and the importance of public lands and waters.
It’s these experiences that give me a unique voice for BHA to reach that wider audience. When someone who loves to recreate around public waters, but has maybe never held a brook trout, gets a chance to get up close to my sculpted fish, I am able to explain as an angler and artist the importance of clean, cold water for brookies. In many cases we can all agree that protecting our public lands and waters is a good thing, but it feels great to be able to point folks to an organization that stays on top of current legislation, and I feel like my voice matters.
What’s your perfect day like on public lands
A perfect day on public lands would have to include waking up on them, enjoying some coffee from the Jetboil with my husband and adventuring with him and our Deutsch drahthaar. Getting in some miles by foot and seeing new sites are always welcome, but I can’t live without fishing of any kind. Whether it’s taking out my 2-wt. fly rod on a small mountain stream to trolling on a lake to sitting in a hut while ice fishing, fishing has always been a way for me to connect to the outdoors and with people I love.