Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: Mission, Issues & Actions (Triads)

During May 2023 I crossed paths with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) founder Mike Beagle in Denver, nearly four years after we last got together at a watering hole not far from Mike’s home in southern Oregon. Catching up with Mike or any other BHA members always reminds me of the three things you can count on at any BHA gathering: good people, good food, and good times.

Mike recruited me into BHA during March 2005. “Consider our organization, there are none like it anywhere,” he said.[1] Later, when we were both serving on the BHA North American Board (2007-2015), we watched the organization go from having no employees to eventually hiring our second President and CEO, Land Tawney (during 2013), along with a growing cadre of hardworking hunter-angler-conservationist staffers.[2]

“An old college coach I played against wrote a book called ‘Make the Big Time Where You Are.’ It’s a fitting title for Land Tawney and where he took Backcountry Hunters & Anglers,” Mike said when Land stepped down from the BHA CEO position during July 2023. “We were a tired, all volunteer group on the verge of collapse when he took the reins.”

“And he took those reins and made BHA a big-time player in public lands conservation in North America,” Mike added. “As our first chairman of the board, I will always be indebted to him for his passionate and incisive leadership the past decade as well as his attention to detail to keep BHA grassroots, boots-on-the-ground oriented. One hell of a leader! Here’s to you, brother.”[3]

We talked about old times and new programs, like the rapidly growing BHA Armed Forces Initiative (AFI).[4] While serving as an Air Force missile launch officer during the 1990s—assigned to the 321st Strategic Missile Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota—I was one of many missileers responsible for 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[5]

We were part of our nations’ nuclear deterrence “Triad” (aka, land-based ICBMs, submarine launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs, and long-range Bombers) and played a key role in winning the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.[6] Similarly, BHA’s mission and related work can be grouped into hunting-angling-conservation Triads, categorized by Mission, Issues, and Action. 

Mission

During March 2004 seven hunters and anglers (the “Gang of Seven”), men and women, stood around a campfire in southern Oregon discussing the fact that there were no hunter-angler-conservation organizations focused on advocating for public lands and waters habitat protection. That night they decided to become “the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife,” and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was born.[7]

Among the Gang of Seven were two veterans: Mike Beagle and Tony Heckard. Mike is a former U.S. Army field artillery officer and Tony served aboard aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy. Before bringing the Gang of Seven together that spring, Mike sought out the advice and support of another veteran, David “Elkheart” Petersen, one of our nation’s most renowned trad bow elk hunters and hunting ethicists.[8]

David is a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot and served on the BHA North American Board in addition to starting the first BHA state chapter (in Colorado) during 2005.[9] In 2013, Petersen received the BHA Mike Beagle Chairman’s Award for outstanding service to the group. From the press release for that honor: “David Petersen is a hunter-conservationist who has been actively involved in BHA since the first year (2004) it was formed. David’s many books and other writings related to hunting and conservation form the ethical foundation of BHA.”[10]

I had the privilege of shooting my first elk while hunting with David during a crisp southwest Colorado mid-October morning amidst russet scrub oak and bright yellow aspens in the San Juan Mountains.[11] “The three-part formula for assuring a rich elk hunting future … could hardly be simpler,” he explained in a 2013 Traditional Bowhunter piece (“The Future of Elk Hunting”), “Those three essential elements are: habitat, habitat, and habitat.”[12] A simple and essential conservation Triad.

Taking David’s sage advice to heart, the BHA Board eventually settled on one of the more meaningful and memorable mission statements I’ve come across: “The voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.” Yes, another conservation Triad. As BHA members collectively seek to protect and perpetuate our wild public lands, waters, and wildlife, we have at least two additional Triads to help focus and inform our work.

Issues Triad (PAF)[13]

  1. Public Lands & Waters (Public Lands = Freedom). Our public lands make each of us land-rich. Protecting and perpetuating public lands and waters is paramount. “Public lands personify this idea we call America—which is freedom. The human animal—the human spirit—is not intended to be confined to a cage.”[14] We are, “The voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.”
  2. Access & Opportunity. We are intent on keeping public lands in public hands.[15] Access has emerged as a priority issue for North American hunters and anglers, and lack of access is cited by sportsmen and women as the No. 1 reason why we stop pursuing our passions. Access to the more than 600 million acres of public land is part of being American. However, opportunity is diminished when “access becomes excess.”[16]
  3. Fair Chase & Restraint. “We must ensure that the ethical pursuit of fish and game is upheld as dearly as our own obligation to morality and citizenship,” BHA explains in its fair chase statement.[17] As Jim Posewitz wrote in Beyond Fair Chase, “The ethics of hunting deteriorate as machinery and modern technology are substituted for hunter stamina, skill, knowledge, and patience.”[18] As America’s first conservationists, hunters have a century-old tradition of policing our own ranks.[19]

Action Triad (PAF)

-P = Public Service. As BHA members we are all public servants, doing selfless work that benefits more than just ourselves.

-A = Overcoming Adversity. To do that work effectively we must continually overcome adversity and opposition from those who are opposed to keeping public lands in public hands.[20] As the renowned biologist Valerius Geist said, “We need not despair. We need to be active.”[21]

-F = Fight. We must fight for our right to hunt, fish, and otherwise recreate on our wild public lands and waters. As Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”[22]

Through our Public Service with BHA members across the state, country, and continent we are overcoming Adversity and opposition in our Fight to protect and perpetuate our wild public lands, waters, and wildlife. As an aside, while writing this story, off the top of my head, I could only think of three memorable mission statements: the U.S. Air Force (“Fly, Fight, Win”);[23] Tesla (“Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy”); and BHA (“The voice for our wild public lands and wildlife”).

A Triad of very different organizations really grabbing the reins to collectively help make the country, continent, and world a better, safer place for democracy, humanity and the wildlands and wildlife that form the backbone of our great nation. We are all, by default or design, following the advice of the world’s greatest hunter-conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.”[24]

David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of six books including “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation.”[25] During 2019 he was the recipient of BHA’s Mike Beagle-Chairman’s Award “for outstanding effort on behalf of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.”[26]

 

[1] David A. Lien. “Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20.

[2] Staff Report. “Backcountry Hunters and Anglers announces departure of Land Tawney, longtime CEO and president.” Outdoor News: 7/19/23.

[3] Mike Beagle (7/20/23), BHA Founder (3/21/04).

[4] David A. Lien. “Armed Forces Initiative Helps Veterans Hunt … And More.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 8/17/22.

[5] David A. Lien. “Last Alert.” Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM) Newsletter: December 2005, p. 3.

[6] David A. Lien. “Ukraine is another black swan: I was a nuclear missile launch officer in the 1990s. A new Cold War may have just begun.” Colorado Newsline: 4/18/22.

[7] https://www.backcountryhunters.org/about

[8] David A. Lien. “Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20.

[9] https://davidpetersenbooks.com/

[10] https://www.backcountryhunters.org/co_bha_award_winners

[11] David A. Lien. “Hunting With A Man Made of Elk.” Colorado Outdoors: 1/23/14.

[12] David Petersen. “The Future of Elk Hunting.” Traditional Bowhunter magazine: December/January 2013, p. 69.

[13] https://www.backcountryhunters.org/our_issues

[14] Ron Spomer is a hunting writer, conservationist, and photographer.

[15] David A. Lien. “Fighting to keep public lands in public hands.” Grand Junction (Colo.) Daily Sentinel: 1/26/23.

[16] David A. Lien. “Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Increase Reward For Illegal Trail Construction (Help Stop Trail Building ‘Free-For-All’).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/10/23.

[17] https://www.backcountryhunters.org/fair_chase

[18] Jim Posewitz. Beyond Fair Chase. Helena, Montana: Falcon Publishing, Inc., 1994, p. 40.

[19] Colorado BHA Co-Chair David A. Lien quoted in/by: Dennis Anderson. “Opinions vary on using drones for hunting.” Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minn.) StarTribune: 3/17/14.

[20] David A. Lien. “Guest opinion: Selling off our public lands is a bad idea that won’t die.” VailDaily: 1/29/23.

[21] Ben Long. Hunter & Angler Field Guide to Raising Hell. Kalispell, Montana: Scott Publishing Company, 2023, p. 8.

[22] David A. Lien. “Hunting’s Roughrider.” Backcountry Journal: Fall 2012, p. 13.

[23] National Museum of the United States Air Force (in Dayton, Ohio)-Entrance Hall photos (3/25/22).

[24] Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887: Boone And Crockett Club National Headquarters (Missoula, MT) photos (5/14/22).

[25] https://outskirtspress.com/huntforexperience

[26] https://www.backcountryhunters.org/co_bha_award_winners

About David Lien

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