Author: Cassie Gasaway
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a grassroots organization focused on protecting wild public lands, waters and wildlife. Its staff and members across North America pride themselves on protecting and preserving public resources through conservation efforts. Individuals and ATA-member companies can get involved to support and strengthen their efforts, while helping to secure the future of North America’s public lands and waters.
BHA is all about conserving and preserving public lands and waters. Photo Credit: BHA
BHA’s Background and Membership
Land Tawney, BHA president and CEO, said many conservation organizations exist in America, but none of them were entirely focused on public lands and waters until seven friends sat around a campfire in 2004 and created the blueprint for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
“They wanted to make sure folks have access to public lands and waters, and quality fish and wildlife habitat once they get there,” Tawney said. “The quality of fish and wildlife habitat is absolutely essential. Access is obviously important, but you can have all the access in the world and without good habitat, it wouldn’t be a good place to go (and enjoy).”
Tawney said more and more pressures get put on America’s public lands and waters every day. They’re managed for multiple uses, whether it’s hunting, fishing, logging, grazing or oil and gas extraction. He believes conservation is about finding a balance and said BHA thinks about the idea of balance a lot.
That mindset — of using and protecting America’s public resources strategically — has helped the organization grow rapidly. Eight years ago, BHA had 1,000 members. Today, the organization has 750 chapter leaders and over 40,000 members, 70% of whom are 45 years old and younger. Tawney said the members’ political views are split in a three-way tie: one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third independent. The organization’s youthful and politically diverse membership goes to show everyone loves public lands.
Trey Curtiss, BHA’s R3 coordinator (R3 means to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters), believes the organization’s makeup says a lot about the mission.
“Public lands are something we all have in common,” Curtiss said. “It may seem that most things in America are hyper partisan, but we can all agree that public lands are a good thing and something we want to see moving forward.”
Tawney agrees and sees the younger generations as the key to long-term success.
“We’re focused on the idea of working together across party lines and encouraging the next generation of conservation leaders,” he said. “For all the work that has been done before us and all the work that is being done now, if we don’t have the next generation to carry that on, that’s a travesty. Modern-day conservation is 150 years old. We want to continue that legacy and do everything we can to engage new people and pass it along to the next generation.”
BHA is involved in legislation regarding public lands. Photo Credit: BHA
BHA’s Goals and Efforts
BHA chapter leaders and members work in the political arena and at the grassroots level to protect wildlife and wild places.
They tackle legislative issues regarding public resources at the local, state and federal levels by working with state legislators, local game and fish commissions, and agency partners in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and more. For example, BHA, the ATA and many other conservation organizations and companies celebrated years of work when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act in July 2020. The GAOA guarantees $900 million per year in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides monies for access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities. It also established a new National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund worth $9 million each year for five years to address the backlog of maintenance issues on federal lands.
BHA members also influence conservation through gatherings and hands-on work in local communities. For example, chapters host public land cleanups, fence removal projects, mentorship programs, learn-to-hunt programs, wild game cook-offs, wild game processing nights, storytelling nights, and pint nights, where chapters meet and invite community members to a local brewery or watering hole to discuss conservation issues and connect with others who are interested in public lands, wildlife and the outdoors.
BHA offers a collegiate program for young hunters and anglers. Photo Credit: BHA
BHA is a fairly young organization with young members, and its staff understand that many new hunters didn’t grow up in hunter families. Curtiss said chapter leaders take that knowledge to heart and create opportunities that make it easy for people to get involved in conservation efforts and the outdoors. BHA’s uses three programs to help bring new hunters and anglers into the fold.
- Hunting for Sustainability
Hunting for Sustainability launched in 2016 to create and inspire new conservation-minded hunters. Focused on R3, the program encompasses most of the grassroots work BHA chapters do for and with its members. The program connects people to food through hunting, educates them on how to recreate on public lands legally, and teaches them how to reach and encourage legislators to vote in favor of policies that positively affect wildlife and wild places. BHA members made over 6,000 calls to lawmakers in June. “Everything we do to involve and educate the general public is done through the Hunting for Sustainability lens. We showcase the wild food aspect of hunting to draw in folks who are a little hesitant toward hunting,” Curtiss said.
- Collegiate Program
The BHA Collegiate program started four years ago to teach students fair chase principles and their role in protecting and accessing public lands and waters. The program has three goals: to inform college students about conservation so they become active in civic engagement; to give college students the tools and knowledge to buy a license and hunt or fish safely, legally and ethically; and to connect college students with BHA chapters to grow leadership and commitment within the BHA community. BHA has college clubs at 26 campuses and counting that hold meetings and events to achieve their goals. “Folks can look at the college program as its core and see how BHA is trying to raise conservation advocates,” Curtiss said.
- Armed Forces Initiative
The Armed Forces Initiative started last summer to ensure the men and women who serve and have served participate in outdoor recreational opportunities and take active roles as public landowners. After all, they’re the ones responsible for the freedom Americans have to explore and enjoy public lands. The AFI has three pillars that encompass work with veterans, active-duty military service people, and legislators. BHA representatives teach and empower the nation’s service people, who are familiar with weapons, to hunt. They also educate current hunters about hunting laws as they move locations, conduct habitat cleanups at military bases, and fight for policies that benefit military men and women, while giving those men and women skills and confidence to use their voice on behalf of conservation.
BHA is also an active player in social media, which plays a crucial role in welcoming and connecting the younger generation to the outdoors. “We try to put the fun back into conservation, and I think the younger generation really appreciates that,” Tawney said.
Curtiss encourages individuals to join the organization and get involved with local chapters and events. From corporate and local sponsorships to partnering with local chapters to host events, co-brand a program or provide an opportunity for staff to get involved in local conservation efforts, ATA members can work together with BHA representatives to truly make a difference. Other ideas include hosting a conservation trivia night, holding seminars or tutorials on how to use equipment. Curtiss said don’t be afraid to share or suggest new ideas about working together to promote conservation. BHA chapters are open-minded and have the freedom to do what they want.
“A lot of our chapters are fairly autonomous,” Curtiss said. “There’s a lot of diversity across North America, so the great thing about BHA is we lend autonomy to our chapters to let them run with what they think is best in terms of projects and programming.”
To get involved, view the BHA chapter list to find something near you, or call the BHA headquarters at (406) 926-1908 to share your ideas or interest. A BHA staff member will connect you with the right person.