BHA Announces New Chapters, Board Leadership

News for Immediate Release
July 13, 2020
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262, [email protected]

Public lands and waters continue to galvanize hunters, anglers, others across North America

MISSOULA, Mont. – Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members are continuing to expand North America’s largest and most active group of public lands sportsmen and women, establishing new chapters in Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia. The new BHA chapters officially launched following a vote by the BHA North American board of directors at BHA’s North American Rendezvous in June.

The BHA board also announced new leadership of the board’s executive committee. Two-term North American Board Chair Ryan Busse handed the gavel over to Ted Koch, a career federal resource manager. Award-winning author and journalist T. Edward Nickens was elected secretary.

“We will miss Ryan’s fire in the belly and conservation savvy,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “His guidance of our rocket ship of an organization and tutelage of yours truly were invaluable. I look forward to working with Ted to continue our trajectory and effectiveness.”

Leaders of the new BHA chapters emphasized BHA’s critical role in driving engaged advocacy in support of North American public lands and waters.

“The dependence of humans on wild places is so engrained in Arkansas culture that hunting, fishing and trapping have been enshrined as a right in our state constitution,” said James Brandenburg, chair of BHA’s Arkansas chapter and a resident of Bentonville. “We are home to the country’s first national river, the Buffalo, and some of the most famous public duck hunting grounds in the world. And yet our members are equally as passionate about the local boat ramps, trailheads and recreation areas that give us access to our American birthright. Our state leaders are eager for the opportunity to put their words into action defending public lands and waters in Arkansas.”

Working to sustain water quality on the Buffalo National River will be one of the Arkansas chapter’s first initiatives. Members also plan to engage in R3 work and national forest access initiatives.

Georgia is the largest state in the eastern U.S. and has an incredible diversity of public lands, including one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48 states, Okefenokee Swamp. The Georgia board is dedicated to ensuring these public lands are sustained for future generations.

“I think many Georgians, myself included, found our community when we found Backcountry Hunters & Anglers,” said Chris Jenkins, chair of Georgia BHA and a resident of Rabun Gap. “When people think about public lands they often think of the West, but here in the East – in Georgia specifically – we have an abundance of public land – land worth fighting for. We are excited to grow the Georgia BHA chapter and become a leader for public land conservation.”

Nebraska has one of the lowest percentages of public lands in the United States but a diverse landscape, from tall and short grass prairies to the famed sometimes rugged Sandhills. Nebraska also has 80,000 river miles, 197 miles of which are designated Wild and Scenic, and over 77,000 square miles of lakes.

“The formation of an official BHA chapter in Nebraska has been a long time coming,” said Adam Leitschuh, chair of Nebraska BHA, who lives in Plattsmouth. “We have a good base of BHA members in the state, which will only grow with the start of the new chapter. The Nebraska chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has a lot of work ahead of us to protect access and opportunity to all that Nebraska has to offer.” 

South Carolina is the 40th largest state in the US and is made up of approximately 19.4 million acres. Of those 19.4 million acres, 2.3 million are public lands and waters. Even before the new chapter was established, volunteers were already organizing public land cleanups and community pint nights to spread BHA’s message across the state.

“Hunting, fishing and being outdoors was where I wanted to be when I was growing up,” said Cody Oren, chair of BHA South Carolina and resident of West Columbia. “Becoming a father of two beautiful children of my own has amplified the importance of our public lands and waters. The opportunity to protect these wild places for our future generations is why I joined Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. No other conservation group draws in likeminded, public land and water loving outdoor enthusiasts like BHA.”

One of the first priorities of the new West Virginia BHA is to give hunters and anglers a voice in the legislation to redesignate the New River Gorge National River as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Currently, hunters can access all but 1,800 acres of the New River Gorge; however, the proposed bill decreases hunter access.

“Starting a BHA chapter in West Virginia allows us to have boots on the ground to defend, preserve and enjoy our many acres of public lands,” said BHA West Virginia board member Joshua Walters, who lives in Morgantown. “From the Monongahela National Forest to the New River Gorge National River we have the responsibility to assure these precious lands are here for generations to come. I think I speak for all BHA WV chapter members when I say we are excited to get to work and make a positive impact on our state’s public land future.”

“This year’s slate of new chapters is absolutely impressive,” concluded Tawney. “A huge high five to all the volunteers on the ground who put in work and made these opportunities possible. The best is yet to come!”

Sixteen years after its formation, BHA now has chapters in 48 states, two Canadian provinces, one Canadian territory and the District of Columbia.

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