A Vision for Backcountry Conservation
Our freedom to hunt and fish depends on habitat. While many of us enjoy hunting and fishing on a range of landscapes, including farm fields and reservoirs, there is something special – even magical – about hunting deep in the backcountry or fishing on a remote river.
Wilderness hunting and fishing deliver a sense of freedom, challenge and solitude that is increasingly trampled by the twin pressures of growing population and increasing technology. Many treasured fish and wildlife species – such as cutthroat trout, grizzly bear and bighorn sheep – thrive in wilderness. Others, like elk and mule deer, benefit from wilderness. From the Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho and the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, BHA members treasure America's wilderness system and strive to add to it.
We take the advice of Theodore Roosevelt: "Preserve large tracts of wilderness ... for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether or not he is a man of means."
A Hunt for Wild Lands
A land facing ceaseless development. A people overly reliant upon technology and motorized equipment. A quality of life – particularly the sporting life – that seems increasingly in jeopardy.
These are some of the basic tenets of our call to arms – for North American sportsmen and -women to stand up for the wild country and fish and wildlife that depend on it. Now, more than ever before, we need wild lands: places to rekindle the fire at the heart of the human soul. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a nonpartisan group of sportsmen and -women who are standing up for these places and for the outdoor opportunities they represent.
Decades have passed since President Ronald Reagan signed the last significant wilderness bill. Today, with the increased pressures of natural resource extraction and continued threats to the high-quality hunting and angling experience, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is taking a leadership role in advocating for the conservation of wild places. It’s time for national conservation groups from all corners of the continent to set aside differences in philosophy or politics. It’s time to shake hands. It’s time to get something done. The continuation of the very things we love – hunting, fishing, wild places, wildlife – depends upon our ability to move forward.
The visionaries who gave us this great legacy of wildlands – individuals like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold – realized something that sometimes is forgotten today: Without wild places for wild animals, there will be no place for sportsmen to hunt and fish.
"This country has been swinging the hammer of development so long and so hard that it has forgotten the anvil of wilderness which gave value and significance to its labors. The momentum of our blows is so unprecedented that the remaining remnant of wilderness will be pounded into road-dust long before we find out its values."
These prophetic words were written by Aldo Leopold in 1935.
The membership of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers values the traditions and heritage our wild lands, waters and wildlife sustain and we are driven to protect our wild places before the value noted by Leopold is lost forever.
Expanded presence and influence in Alaska
The Great Land has always been a beacon for those who hunt and fish. Many of us grew up dreaming of the ultimate experience in the 49th state chasing trophy rainbow trout or hunting caribou. Generations to come will have those same dreams and some will act on them. The question for us today is, will the iconic landscapes and fish and wildlife populations be there to enjoy.
BHA sees an unfilled niche in the Alaska conservation landscape and we believe that filling that niche could be a critical piece of conservation advocacy in the coming decades. Hunting and fishing conservation organizations in Alaska today can be broadly divided into two camps. First, groups like the Kenai River Sportfishing association represent a hardcore user group that is wholly focused on preserving a specific population of fish for its members. They are highly conservative politically and have stayed out of all high-profile conservation efforts in the state. Second, are our partners like Trout Unlimited and National Wildlife Federation.
By expanding our advocacy reach in Alaska’s underserved and underrepresented landscapes, BHA can empower the voices of sportsmen and women, attract broader media interest, build on existing collaborative efforts between segments of the conservation and outdoor recreation communities, and develop new capacity with staff and chapter leaders to complement our existing footprint. Currently, we have a critical shortage of staff capacity in Alaska.
With a dedicated Alaska staffer, BHA will advance policies, organize outreach events and orchestrate media efforts to engage the public, including the hunting and fishing community, and educate strategic decision makers about the importance of conserving iconic backcountry landscapes and defending the integrity of our public lands, waters and wildlife.
The military community has long represented a large hunter and angler population across the nation. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers aims to merge two communities into one, the military community and BHA’s growing base of public land and water conservationists who have heeded the call to join us in taking a stand for public lands and waters. To do so BHA has officially launched the Armed Forces Initiative (AFI) as of June 2019. For many of our veterans and active duty military personnel, they are driven to defend those wild public lands and waters that they grew up hunting and fishing with their families – and for others, they’re just waiting for the invite to experience the sense of solitude and awe that tracking an elk in some of America’s wildest country can provide.
BHA recognizes that the members of the United States Armed Forces are the tip of the spear in terms of the defense of our wild and public lands. Our Nation’s troops are also to thank for the freedoms that allow BHA and its members to be the voice for our wild and public lands. Through the Armed Forces Initiative, BHA will ensure veteran and active duty voices are always included amongst the ”Public Land Owner” community while simultaneously providing a constructive outlet for current or transitioning service members looking to continue selfless service or simply enjoy the comradery of like-minded individuals.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Throughout its history, the mainstream conservation movement in the United States has mainly attracted a narrow segment of the population—primarily white, wealthier Americans. As the nation continues to diversify, the conservation movement is left with one of the greatest challenges it will face this century. In order to become an influential and sustainable movement for generations to come, we need to successfully address our diversity crisis.
While understanding the importance of diversity is imperative, the broader issue we should focus on is “How do we respond to one of the environmental movement’s greatest challenges of the 21st century?” We need to come to terms with the fact that the U.S. will continue to diversify whether we follow suit or not. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2050, people of color in this nation will more than double, growing to almost 220 million, and will almost certainly comprise the majority of the population. The political and social implications of these changing demographics are vast, and we, as a movement, need to respond accordingly and immediately. We need a movement that appeals to and benefits all Americans from all walks of life. Conservation needs to be intertwined in all aspects of American culture. It won’t be an easy road to follow, yet change is not a question. It is a “must” if we want a movement that is sustainable and relevant in the public and political consciousness. We have a huge opportunity and responsibility before us.
To effectively and equitably address conservation issues, we need everyone at the table. That means bringing together all segments of society that traditionally have not been included in the mainstream conservation movement. Diversity enables movements, just like organisms, to adapt, evolve, and ultimately survive. It’s that simple and that strategic. Truly inclusive movements challenge status quo daily, it takes shared intention and collective focus to drive real diversity forward for any meaningful impact. As with any societal concern, acknowledging and describing the problem is important, but this is just the first step.
Over the previous six months, our team has spearheaded a sustainable, equitable and inclusive conservation movement at the local level, in collaboration with our young and growing constituency of volunteers and advocates. We have developed outreach strategies and curriculums that empower at-risk and underprivileged communities to make positive change in their lives and their communities through comprehensive outdoor experiences, with a focus on the conservation ethos. We have developed strong partnerships with refugee resettlement organizations, immigration services, youth service agencies, and marginalized populations in our community. We deliberately engage these communities through targeted outreach and provide mentorship and the material resources needed to become independent, thoughtful sportsmen and women, leaders, mentors, community members and ultimately champions for conservation. Through this engagement and empowerment, we are uniting groups with diverse experiences. We all want clean air and water, and healthy land to live and recreate on. A community’s forms of and reasons for conservation and environmental stewardship may be different from one another, but the overlying motivation and desire remains constant. We must harness and propagate these commonalities through local engagement.
While our local engagement has been successful thus far, this outreach must take place at a national level to effect generational change. There are numerous established conservation leaders and advocates from the Baby Boomer generation who have worked successfully on diversity issues, but traditional conservation group as a whole have lagged behind. In contrast, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is highlighted by a rapidly growing, young, politically diverse and active membership. This uniquely qualifies us as a catalyst for change in the conservation movement. Through the work we are doing at the local level, scaled to a national audience, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers will propel thoughtful and effective conservation into a new era of inclusivity.