Welcome to the backcountry – a place that is there for you and me to enjoy. Public land for our use, whether its hunting, fishing, biking, hiking, camping, or any other outdoor pursuit requires a bit of leg work.
It’s romantic, and it’s raw. We have access to this wilderness because the federal government owns it, and there are laws in place that allow us to explore and utilize it freely.
The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is an organization that has made itself known as the voice of not just hunters and fishermen, but wildlife, recreational users of the land, along with the land itself. With an emphasis on hunting and fishing in the backcountry, BHA focuses on preservation and conservation of public lands, along with thorough education for those who use that land, or will continue to use it in the future.
There have been several laws put in place to help preserve our public lands. One of the most significant of these laws include the Wilderness Act of 1964, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. The Wilderness Act established a preservation system for wilderness and a criteria for the land that was to be included in this program.
Though laws like this one are vital tools in the protection of our public lands, there has not been a prominent bill signed dealing with the protection of our wilderness since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. With the recent talk of transferring the ownership of public lands, BHA has become an extremely significant and well-known organization.
BHA began around a campfire in Oregon in 2004, and now has chapters in 23 states, as well as British Columbia, Canada. The organization is constantly growing and creating chapters in more and more states. Currently, BHA has members in all 50 states, actively working towards goals of outdoor education and preservation of land. One way this is done is through habitat protection plans throughout the US that are coordinated and worked on by members of the organization.
The image and values of the BHA become extremely obvious and comprehensive, after the first few minutes of talking to Larry McKurtis, the president of BHA’s Nevada chapter.
“It’s a lot of outdoor education, backcountry skills and making a voice for the hunters that are out there doing it DIY (do it yourself),” McKurtis told LiveOutdoors. “It’s fostering to that group of outdoors men and women that want to feel represented by their interests of protecting wilderness areas and protecting public lands. Keeping access is a major point too. To garner that in the future and make sure we don’t lose it.”
So why should we be worried about our public lands? And why is it so important that this organization of passionate outdoors men and women are keeping a close eye on our public lands? Though these issues go unnoticed by many, there have been many recent controversies surrounding the transfers of our public lands.
In the big picture, the federal government owns our public lands, however, when getting down to the nuts and bolts, the citizens of the United States are the actual owners of the land. The only role that the federal government plays is that they are the caretakers of the land – they are responsible for upholding the Wilderness Act, thus preserving the lands.
Several state governments are currently making efforts to claim public lands that are located within the bounds of their states – this is why the average American citizen should be worried. The reason this is an issue is because the states are attempting to utilize these lands for profits, rather than recreational use. There are currently legislatures in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri and Idaho that have made efforts to gain ownership of public lands. Many of the bills that have been drafted directly contradict public interest, however the small amount of attention they are getting is giving the states more momentum to continue their efforts. This is why BHA is so crucial for everyone, whether you be an outdoors enthusiast or not.
Some may see the transfers of these lands as an economic opportunity – a chance to extract natural resources, or even make large amounts of money for the state by selling these lands to private parties. Though there is an economic opportunity, there are many reasons that this would be detrimental for American citizens, along with the wildlife living on those lands. The states would not be managing the lands for the citizens’ interest of recreation – the goal would be profit maximization. States also do not have the proper funding to be able to manage these lands in the way that the federal government does. The states would be forced to introduce additional taxes, or sell the lands. When looked at from the perspective exclusively of hunters and anglers, many states do not allow any hunting or fishing on their lands.
The BHA are carefully examining controversial situations involving public lands, and forming projects to aid the American public in maintaining the use of these resource that are being stripped from them. Clean water and conservation of fish are two very prominent stances of BHA. The organization currently has multiple efforts to protect our water and fish, all over the United States. One of the most significant efforts currently being made is BHA’s opposition of the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, otherwise known as S.1140 – legislature that is essentially an attempt to block out the Clean Water Act. The BHA is fighting this legislature alongside multiple other organizations.
So if we already own these lands and have all the access we want, then why would we have interest in changing the way these lands are managed? That is the question that the BHA would most likely want all American citizens to ask themselves, which is exactly why there are a variety of outdoors enthusiasts among their ranks. There are not only hunters and fishermen, but bicyclists, hikers, and many other individuals. BHA is the voice of anyone who wishes to continue their use of our public lands.
The BHA has a mission to educate hunters, fishermen, and all other outdoors men and women. They have various avenues of doing this, but many are through both community outreach and easily accessible resources. The Nevada chapter sponsors a local event called the Maison T Ortiz Youth Outdoor Skills Camp. This is a youth outdoor camping trip, designed to educate youth about outdoor skills. Kids learn about many activities such as fishing, camping, archery, and shooting. This year will be the 6th annual organization of the event, taking place July 25th-17th. Other outings include fishing trip gatherings, along with hosting and sponsoring special events. This year, BHA hosted the annual Full Draw Film Tour, in Reno Nevada, where bow hunting films were showcased, and donated items were auctioned off.
The BHA also offers many sources for education on their media outlets on their website. There, you can find an incredible amount of information, whether it be on current events and projects concerning BHA members, or even educational tips, articles, and videos. The website even offers the ability to look up issues by each state’s chapter. An aspiring outdoorsman to even the wisest of outdoorsmen can gain a large amount of knowledge about any aspect of hunting, fishing, and utilizing the backcountry. The organization also has a quarterly magazine titles the “Backcountry Journal”, full of important information regarding skills and current events.
To help aid with keeping our lands public, the BHA website includes a sportsmen’s pledge that you can sign. Also, you can help by joining the ranks of the BHA and even by donating to the organization. Another excellent way to get involved is to be aware of the relevant issues occurring in your state, along with attending BHA events in your area.
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