Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was founded in 2004 to to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters. Our public lands face constant threats from development, political pressure, privatization, and climate change. The work that Backcountry Hunters & Anglers does in the halls of Congress and in local chapters across North America, provides a voice for all wild places, fish and wildlife, and our outdoor heritage.
Flylords: Let’s hear how Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) started!
BHA: In 2004, eight hunters gathered around a campfire in Oregon saw the critical need for a conservation organization dedicated to protecting the public lands and waters that are the heart of our North American hunting and fishing heritage. BHA started with the hard work of volunteers, growing into the 40,000-plus member organization that it is today. That grassroot ethic continues to ground BHA and is embodied in the work of our chapters.
Flylords: What are the guiding principles at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; what are you guys working towards?
BHA: We seek to preserve and expand outdoor opportunities for public land hunters and anglers across North America. In practice, that mission runs the gamut from fighting the sale of public lands to advocating for fish and wildlife habitat conservation and recruiting the next generation of sportsmen and women. Our hunting and fishing heritage is deep and diverse; the work we do to sustain that heritage reflects that. Accordingly, we’re far more than “keep public lands in public hands,” even if that is a guiding objective in our work.
Flylords: Large, intact wilderness areas are increasingly rare. How important are these areas for wildlife, sportsmen, and healthy ecosystems alike?
BHA: Intact wilderness is a precious commodity. The backcountry hunting and angling experiences on which our members rely frequently take place in wilderness areas, yet these areas only make up 5 percent of the lands in the United States. These lands are the core of our way of life. Yet, they face increased pressure from a growing population and ecological threats. Public lands antagonists like the American Lands Council like to contend how difficult it is for the average hunter to access backcountry areas, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anyone with good boots can have a once in a life-time backcountry experience in North America, and we need to keep it that way. We also need to consider that these areas effectively create big bulls and bucks, foster vital spawning habitat for fish species, and reduce human-wildlife conflict. The value of wilderness extends far beyond the immediate experiences it provides.
Flylords: The outdoor recreation economy is a driving economic force—to the tune of $887 billion in consumer spending. However, this sustainable economy is dependent on vast outdoor places and clean air, lands, and water. How significant is this economy, but at the same time is it insulated for the long term?
BHA: The outdoor recreation economy is growing quickly, and that growth will only increase as more and more people look to our public lands for solace, health and a source of wild harvested food. Thankfully, outdoor businesses, including our great roster of corporate partners at BHA, recognize the foundational role that public lands and waters play in this economy and are stepping up to use their voices. Together, we’re working on behalf of not just hunters and anglers but also those livelihoods depend on the outdoor recreation economy.
Flylords: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is based out of Montana, but you all work country-wide, right?
BHA: BHA is headquartered in Missoula, Montana, but our work spans the continent. While our history began in the western United States, we now have chapters in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, one Canadian territory and the District of Columbia, and our members live all over the world. We engage with issues across both the United States and Canada in local councils, state and provincial legislatures and the federal government. Our chapters are the heart and soul of BHA, and they are responsible for the boots-on-the-ground projects that help improve and sustain our public lands and waters. Whether it’s cleanup projects, habitat restoration initiatives, or hunter recruitment events, our chapters make BHA’s voice resonate across North America.
That voice is critical when we engage with issues in threatened landscapes like the Boundary Waters or Bristol Bay. All conservation is local, but having local hunters and anglers step up to describe what they stand to lose when an irresponsibly developed mine is proposed in their backyards is what makes us effective at the national level.
Flylords: Let’s touch on some fishing-specific issues. What is Backcountry Hunters & Anglers doing to preserve, protect, and improve fishing across the country? And what are some pressing threats?
BHA: While we’re a hook and bullet organization, folks tend to focus on the bullet. The fact is, fishing and public water access are BHA priorities, and we’re committed to standing up for aquatic ecosystems and stream access.
For more than a decade, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been working alongside Alaskans, indigenous communities and more than 1 million American hunters, anglers, and businesses to oppose development of the Pebble Mine. We brought thousands of voices to bear this year asking Congress, the EPA, and the White House to protect the Bristol Bay watershed and the angling communities that surround it. While we were heartened recently to see the Trump administration pause the permitting process for the mine, our work will continue until one of the most valuable and productive fisheries in North America is safe from this threat.
Likewise, conserving the Boundary Waters ecosystem and preventing development of a massive sulfide-ore copper mine has been a central focus of our work in recent years. Together with partners like Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, we’ve engaged with businesses, lawmakers and state and federal agencies to ensure that this valuable Midwestern fishery continues to provide world-class angling opportunities and wilderness experiences for generations to come.
Flylords: This summer has witnessed some major successes for public lands and conservation. Care to tell us about some of these victories?
BHA: The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in July marked the most significant conservation win in decades. Permanent reauthorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund have been two key priorities for the conservation community since the fund was established in 1964. We achieved the former late last year with the passage of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Recreation and Management Act, and we saw the latter become reality this summer with the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed with stunning bipartisan support in the House and Senate before being signed by the President.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is our nation’s most successful and longstanding public access funding program. Here in Montana, LWCF has funded just about every fishing access site in the state. Across the country, LWCF has funded public lands, parks and projects in every U.S. county. Ensuring its full and dedicated funding at $900 million annually is an incredible win for hunters, anglers and anyone who enjoys public lands.
The Great American Outdoors Act proved that public lands and waters are a reliable font of bipartisan unity. We’d like to see that momentum continue with conservation priorities like the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act.
Flylords: Happy Public Lands Month! Tell us about what this means to Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and some of the ongoing projects/events.
BHA: We’ve had a busy Public Lands Month so far in 2020! Together with our chapters, we’ve launched our 2nd Annual Public Land Pack Out, where BHA members clean up our public lands with organized trash pick-ups, all while raising awareness of the importance of clean, healthy wildlife habitat. With our corporate partner C.C. Filson, we’re rolling out an online series of seminars, Filson Skills Nights, where participants can gain valuable information from hunting and fishing experts. We’ve also launched our annual Public Lands and Waters Photo Contest, held a screening of our Public Land Owner Film Fest, and are partnering with Patagonia for a showing of their new film Public Trust, which is narrated by journalist Hal Herring, host of our podcast, BHA’s Podcast & Blast.
Flylords: After we finish celebrating our public lands, the country has an intense presidential election to responsibly carry out. I understand Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a nonpartisan group and has restrictions with direct electioneering activities but tell us about your “VOTE PUBLIC LANDS AND WATERS” campaign.
BHA: Vote Public Lands and Waters highlights the importance of our shared landscapes and helps hunters and anglers make informed decisions at the ballot box. BHA is founded on bipartisan unity, and our annual membership survey shows that our ranks are incredibly diverse in terms of political affiliation. As a 501c3 organization, we do not endorse candidates for public office, nor do we take positions on individual races. Vote Public Lands and Waters is about helping sportsmen and women ask the right questions of their candidates when it comes to hunting and fishing opportunities, public lands and conservation – and it sends the candidates themselves a crucial message: We hunt, and we fish, and we vote public lands and waters!
Flylords: How can our readers get involved with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers? Also, I wear my “Vote Public Lands and Waters” shirt all the time—where can people find one? Anything else you want to add?
BHA: First, join BHA if you’re not already a member! Visit our website and connect with your local chapter to get involved on the ground level. Check out our online store for the latest Public Land Owner apparel. And raise your voice – sign our pledge to Vote Public Lands and Waters and take action on our policy priorities via our online action center. Never underestimate the power of your voice. Democracy is still ruled by the people!