As we approach the end of the year, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers invites you to be a driving force behind our impactful conservation initiatives. With a generous $15,000 matching donation, your contribution will go twice as far in preserving our wild spaces. Beyond the numbers, we're spotlighting our most significant achievements of the year—from grassroots initiatives to impactful policy victories. Your support isn't just a donation; it's an investment in a future where our wild spaces thrive and outdoor traditions endure. Join us in celebrating these triumphs and fuel the momentum for even greater conservation wins. Together, let's make a lasting difference in the landscapes we love.
Arkansas BHA Adds Access to 150,000 Acres of Public Land
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' Arkansas Chapter notched a major public access win in July 2023 when it inked a deal to purchase just one acre of land that now provides additional permanent access to thousands of acres of public lands and waters in western Arkansas.
To make it happen, Arkansas BHA volunteers worked with the seller (a private landowner) and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Via the purchase of that single acre, the public now has guaranteed access to 103 acres of the Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area and, from there, access to 150,000-plus acres of Muddy Creek Wildlife Management Area, a cooperatively managed portion of the Ouachita National Forest.
The opportunity for the project arose during a series of meetings convened to improve public access to state-owned lands and was flagged for Arkansas BHA to pursue. Following the purchase of the critical acre, the Arkansas BHA donated the property to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which will now oversee its management. BHA corporate partner onX Maps also provided support for the project.
Corner Crossing: A Win in Court
On May 26, the District Court of Wyoming found it legal to cross through private airspace when stepping from public land to public land over a shared public/private corner. While this decision is currently under appeal, this is a massive win for public access in Wyoming and for the 8.3 million acres of landlocked public land across the west. This ruling establishes the legality of “corner crossing," potentially opening up access to millions of acres in 11 Western states.
BHA filed an amicus brief in this case as well, and that amicus brief was part of a victory this spring in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. In its brief, BHA maintains that the plaintiff in this case “cannot secure for itself the value of public land interspersed with its property by threatening trespass, since the government and its licensees (the public) have an equal right to access their lands.” We've been fighting for the public's benefit and access to our public lands in this case since 2022, and we're still going to need your help to enshrine this right for good!
Hallelujah Junction: Stewardship for the Future
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been leading the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area Post-Fire Rehabilitation and Connectivity Project in collaboration with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Washoe Tribe, the Sagebrush in Prisons Project, and Wildlands Network, thanks to funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and Sitka Gear. This large-scale rehabilitation project is restoring critical winter range habitat for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and elk. We are also working closely with the Washoe Tribe to include culturally significant plants like bitterbrush in restoration efforts. In addition, our project leverages the work of Wildlands Network along Highway 395 to study wildlife movement through existing culverts and at-grade crossings to help inform Caltrans of priority areas for wildlife crossing infrastructure and investments. Our collective efforts augment a million-dollar project that Caltrans has planned for Highway 395 along our work area.
To that end, for five days in October, volunteers braved below-freezing temperatures while camping and planting to help restore the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area from the impacts of the Loyalton Fire that wiped out critical winter range on these borderlands between California and Nevada. In the evenings participants gathered in the Sierra Valley for live bands, beer, raffles, good company, and close gatherings around the campfire, and over the course of five days 10,000 bitterbrush seedlings were planted, a bear was harvested, and BHA's California and Nevada chapters were part of some incredible stewardship work on our public lands!
Boundary Waters: Keeping Wilderness Wild
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was a key voice in pushing the decision to advance long-term protections for the Rainy River watershed and the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a crown jewel of public lands and waters in northeast Minnesota and America’s most visited wilderness area.
In January of this year, an administrative mineral withdrawal secured jointly through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service established a 20-year moratorium on mineral extraction in the region. This important decision followed an environmental analysis of the Boundary Waters that demonstrated major risks from the effects of copper-nickel mining in this pristine watershed. The mineral withdrawal encompasses approximately 225,504 acres of Superior National Forest lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.
The proposed copper-nickel mining that threatens the Boundary Waters is not connected to Minnesota’s Iron Range heritage, and BHA recognizes the importance of responsible mining to local communities in the state. Sulfide mining, however, has a poor track record that jeopardizes the Rainy River watershed and the complexly interconnected hydrology systems that feed the Boundary Waters and provide unparalleled recreational opportunities to hunt, fish, canoe and camp in a wilderness landscape.
Without the work of organizations like BHA, this gorgeous area of North American public lands heritage would not be protected today. BHA continues to advocate for federal policies that would permanently protect the Boundary Waters and properly steward landscapes like this that provide remarkable fish and wildlife habitat.
BHA X BLM Stewardship Grant: Five Years of BHA on the Land
Critical wildlife habitat, including big-game migration corridors and sage grouse habitat, will benefit from a new partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Inflation Reduction Act dollars are underwriting the project work, which will be focused on a number of Western states, including California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming.
Under the partnership agreement, the BLM will invest $2.5 million over five years in BHA-led projects for fence modification and removal, habitat improvement and overall stewardship initiatives. Populations of pronghorn, mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep will benefit through the elimination of barriers to their movement and by improving habitat connectivity on and around BLM lands. Sagebrush country and critical habitat supporting grouse populations also stand to gain via targeted fence removals, which will reduce both fence-grouse collisions and predation perches for corvids and raptors.
BHA is utilizing data provided by BLM wildlife staff and state fish and wildlife agencies to identify priority habitat, including fence work pinpointed for removal or modification within state action plans developed for Interior Department Secretarial Order 3362, “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.” We're very excited to have stewardship be part of the very bones of our organization, and getting to do work like this is an exciting new frontier for BHA!
Bristol Bay: Pebble Mine Blocked
In January of this year, after years of working with stakeholder and partners to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the Army Corps of Engineers, to conduct a thorough environmental review process and secure protections for Bristol Bay, the EPA rescinded an industry fill and dredge permit under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act – preventing the infamous proposed Pebble Mine and a resulting 10.2 billion tons of waste from being disposed of in the Bristol Bay watershed.
BHA has supported protections for the entire Bristol Bay region for more than a decade and has fought to ensure that Pebble Mine does not spoil this extraordinary watershed. Bristol Bay supports robust recreational, subsistence and commercial salmon fisheries, boasting the world’s largest remaining wild salmon fishery, 35 fish species and nearly half of all wild sockeye populations. It provides undisturbed habitat for caribou, moose, brown and black bears and large populations of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. While BHA is not anti-development, we do not support destructive and irresponsible proposals that stands to alter and ruin vast, in-tact, rich ecosystems that support premier hunting and fishing opportunities and other wild resources.
BHA will continue working with Indigenous communities, business leaders and our conservation partners to advocate for safeguards that add durability to EPA’s decision and secure greater certainty for the future of Bristol Bay and the tremendous fish and wildlife resources that drive our outdoor traditions and fuel the sustainability of critical economies.
Rhode Island Shore Access
After heavy lobbying by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' Rhode Island chapter, on Jun. 26, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee signed H5174A & S417A, two bills that rewrote the laws governing shoreline access for the coastal state. Most importantly, the new laws corrects a flawed state supreme court decision by establishing a boundary 10 feet inland of the “recognizable high tide line” where Constitutional “privileges of the shore” are protected. Forty years ago, the court’s ruling in State v. Ibbison imposed a shoreline boundary at the “mean high tide line” as determined by projecting the 18.6 year average of high tide elevations on the dynamic shoreline. Unfortunately, the court’s boundary has proven to be unworkable because it is not actually identifiable on the beach.
The Rhode Island chapter was indefatigable in this fight. But this access effort was supported by the dedication and efforts of hundreds of organizations and individuals over the last several years (you can find some of them signed on to their coalition letter to Governor McKee) While there are simply too many to list, we’d like to specifically recognize and thank our colleagues in advocacy at Save the Bay – Narragansett Bay, who have been close partners throughout the development of H5174A & S417A. From co-publishing op-eds on the shoreline access to being recognized on the House and Senate floors following successful votes, Save the Bay and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have led the organizational charge to secure access to Rhode Island’s shoreline. This kind of collaborative work is what makes BHA's local efforts so powerful, and is one of the things we're proudest of at the closing of 2023.
CA Navigable Waters
In California there is a constitutional right to fish, and the right to access, hunt and fish the navigable waters of our state - for those waters are to be held in the public trust for the enjoyment of everyone. In 2023, the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers California chapter was a key protagonist in a fight to make sure those rights were not infringed.
Last fall, two anglers were confronted by a California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden who claimed they were trespassing while fishing the Truckee River along a section that ran through private land. After the warden's lieutenant doubled down this dubious claim, BHA stepped in and convened a meeting of stakeholders, elected officials, NGOs and volunteers to address the issue. We are happy to say that CDFW legal counsel has agreed with the objections we brought forth in our letter and has notified CDFW law enforcement appropriately. The Truckee is indeed a navigable water and as such anglers are allowed to fish it!
We are thrilled at the result and humbled by the power of BHA volunteers and the efficacy of true grassroots activism.
The Tongass: Roadless Protections Restored
With the support of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, unique backcountry fish and wildlife habitat in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska will once again be conserved under a rule finalized in January of this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This decision by the USDA is the latest decision affecting the long-term management of 9.3 million acres of roadless backcountry lands in America’s largest national forest. Originally protected under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule which was adopted following one of the most extensive public engagement campaigns in the history of federal rulemaking, these protections were rescinded entirely from the Tongass in 2020.
BHA has consistently supported the need to sustain the remote habitat, robust fish and wildlife populations and unique hunting and fishing opportunities found within the 9.3 million acres of roadless lands in the Tongass, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. The USDA rule restores those long-established protections for these areas, which comprise habitat for sought-after game species, including mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears, and encompass thousands of miles of salmon-rich waterways, legendary among anglers and fundamental to the state’s commercial salmon industry.
BHA has been part of this long-term battle to protect incredible public lands like those in the Tongass and we continue to support durable protections that would guarantee fish and wildlife habitat here remains intact for future generations of hunters and anglers.
PA Game Fund Protected
Our chapters are the first line of defense against bad legislation that will negatively impact conservation. In the fall of 2023, a last-minute amendment was added to an appropriations bill in the Pennsylvania state senate that would have transferred $150 million from the state Game Fund to other uses. The Game Fund is comprised of hunter license dollars and Pittman Robertson funds. It was obvious to the Pennsylvania chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers that this was a violation of federal rules and a breach of trust with our state’s one million hunters.
Pennsylvania chapter staff and volunteers responded quickly to alert legislators, met with senate staff to explain the issue and spread the word in the conservation community. Working with partner organizations, they rallied sportsmen and women to reach out to their legislators and voice their opposition to this unprecedented raid on conservation funds.
Through education and action, the chapter was able to lead efforts to nullify this measure and preserve the Game Fund to benefit wildlife, public lands and hunting in our great state. PA BHA is the voice for hunters and anglers in Pennsylvania, and our volunteers will work hard to keep it that way.