MISSOULA, Mont. – Sportsmen and women across North America are rising up in support of public lands and the outdoor opportunities they represent, founding new chapters of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and further establishing the young organization as the fastest growing, most outspoken and potent sportsmen’s group active today.
Four new BHA chapters – encompassing the Southeast, Capital Region, South Dakota and Alberta, Canada – were officially recognized by the BHA national board of directors at BHA’s annual North American Rendezvous, a record-breaking event that convened in Montana earlier this month.
“Our public lands – and threats to their existence – have the power to engage our citizenry like no other issue,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney, “and North American sportsmen and women are ideally suited to defend these places and the outdoor opportunities they offer in the face of unprecedented threats.
“That hunters and anglers all across the continent are moved to come together in the name of public lands and under the BHA banner is profoundly humbling,” continued Tawney. “BHA is resonating with those in our community who believe in taking action and ‘spending themselves in a worthy cause,’ to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt. We are fighting to achieve a common victory – and to stand up for values that lie at the heart of who we are as public land owners.”
The Capital Region Chapter of BHA formed to provide a voice in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., for hunters, anglers and all outdoorsmen, said Chapter Co-chair Tom Hartland.
“The Capital Region encompasses diverse landscapes ranging from the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva to the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains,” said Hartland, a public lands sportsman from Westminster, Maryland. “Chapter members will be active in our region to promote the BHA mission, values, habitat protection and enhancement, and sustaining and expanding public access opportunities. We will be the voice speaking out when our legacy is threatened. We will work diligently so future generations will have the ability to enjoy the backcountry experiences we all hold dear in the remaining wild places in the Capital Region.”
Likewise, Ashley Kurtenbach, who serves as secretary of BHA South Dakota, cites threats to public lands and public access in her state as a driving force in the chapter’s formation.
“Recent threats of public lands transfers and water issues makes having a South Dakota chapter of BHA crucial,” said Kurtenbach, a public lands bowhunter and backcountry athlete from Deadwood. “With 2.6 million acres of public lands remaining in South Dakota, it’s our responsibility to preserve what we have left for us and future generations.
“The South Dakota chapter of BHA was created to conserve and protect our state’s public lands and waters, as well as access to these beautiful places,” continued Kurtenbach. “BHA is a nationwide leader to aid our state in keeping our treasured lands in public hands.”
Similar concerns, along with specific near-term objectives, led to Alberta sportsmen establishing BHA’s second Canadian chapter.
“To date, we’ve been focused on ensuring balanced use and conservation of backcountry areas in the management plan for Castle Provincial Park,” said Neil Keown, chair of Alberta BHA. “The Alberta chapter of BHA was formed in the belief that our freedom to hunt and fish depends on wilderness habitat and its bounty. Our goal is to deliver this backcountry habitat to the next generation of hunters and anglers. As such, much depends on our shared voices, efforts and actions. In addition to fostering the principles of traditional hunting and angling, fair chase and land stewardship, our members are united in achieving this goal.”
Meanwhile, BHA’s Southeast chapter, comprising Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, has been assembling and mobilizing quickly over the past seven months thanks to a strong board and dedicated members.
“Sportsmen in the Southeast identify easily with BHA’s mission – public land is scarce, access is difficult and prime areas are overcrowded,” said Chapter Chair Joshua Kaywood, who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “As the chapter looks ahead in 2017 and 2018, we see several regional policy issues that threaten a range of habitat and waterways. Our goal is to address these threats and mitigate them through constituent education and legislative engagement.
“The Southeast chapter encompasses a variety of landscapes, from the Everglades to the Smoky Mountains, all of which provide important habitat to fish and wildlife, as well as clean water,” Kaywood continued. “Chapter members are diverse sportsmen who have traveled to every corner of this continent and have built a love for spaces outside of the region. As such the Southeast chapter is committed to the national BHA mission and is prepared to work on issues north or west of the region, as well as on our home ground.”
Barely a dozen years after its formation, BHA has expanded its membership to comprise chapters in 34 states, two Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C. BHA was formed around an Oregon campfire in 2004.