As a former Air Force missile launch officer, I supported one leg of America’s nuclear triad, which consists of land, sea and air weapons systems including: intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and strategic bombers (i.e., the B-1, B-2 and B-52s). This is the military equivalent of a three-legged stool for national defense and deterrence, the backbone of America’s national security.
Similarly, the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) has a triad organizational structure (or backbone) that includes: 1.) an Executive Leadership Team (ELT)/board; 2.) Regional Groups, which are part of our much larger Chapter Leadership Team (CLT); and 3.) Appointed “Liaison” positions (also part of the CLT).
This hybrid/triad structure provides us with a flexible means to empower essentially anyone who wants to take the initiative as a chapter leader without having to “put a square peg into a round hole” or, worse, turn them away due to lack of an open leadership position. If you have members who endeavor to be chapter leaders but don’t have a way to accommodate them, put some thought into modifying your chapter structure.
For example, here in Colorado, motivated members may not be able to serve on the board/ELT due to limited positions/openings. However, they might be interested in a regional Group position. We can add volunteers to existing Groups or create new Groups, as deemed appropriate. If a Group position isn’t desirable, they can still be plugged into the leadership team as “Liaisons.”
Our Liaison positions currently include: Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) Front Range Liaison; CPW At-Large Liaison; and, most recently, Culinary Liaison. We also have a Legislative Liaison, who is an ELT member. Similar to our regional Groups, the potential for adding new leaders to the CLT as Liaisons is, within reason, limited only by the number of willing volunteers and our imagination.
Our Culinary Liaison—Geordie Robinson, who was a featured chef at BHA’s 2021 Field to Table dinner—is a first of its kind position for BHA state chapters. Colorado also broke trail as the first official BHA state chapter, formed during 2005 (by renowned trad bow elk hunter David Petersen, a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot), only a year after the “Gang of Seven” stood around the first BHA campfire during March 2004.
We currently have eight regional “Groups” with room for more. Although we also have an ELT/board (8 of us), our regional Groups are where most of the heavy lifting takes place. Each Group is headed up by a Regional Director (or co-directors) along with Assistant RDs and other positions, as deemed appropriate by the RDs.
Our hybrid/triad structure has evolved over the years as we’ve endeavored to find more ways to empower more chapter leaders. Finding and empowering leaders should be among the top goals of all current BHA chapter leaders, which goes hand in hand with being “the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.”
With more dedicated chapter leaders engaging more boots-on-the-ground members (and others) in support of our great public lands estate, we’ll collectively be more effective hunter-angler-conservationists. Colorado BHA founder David Petersen adds, “You don’t inspire volunteers to action by decree from on high. Rather, you give them minimal direction and maximum freedom to do their own thing, within the realm of the group’s charter.”
One of the hardest parts of leadership, I’ve found, is learning how to let go of the tendency to over-control or micro-manage and instead focus on empowering as many chapter leaders as possible while also endeavoring to provide the necessary guidance and training needed to maximize their effectiveness/performance. In a nutshell, “the greatest leaders build more leaders.”
In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “The best executive is one who has the good sense enough to pick good men [and women] … and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” “A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible,” adds Simon Sinek.
As we’ve codified in our Colorado BHA Strategic Plan, “Our ultimate goal is to inspire, empower and inform (IE&I = Motivate) our boots-on-the-ground members and chapter leaders to help them do whatever it is they want to do within the broad parameters of BHA’s wildlands and wildlife protection mission.” And as I’m prone to say, “all of us are smarter than any of us” and “when we all do a little, we accomplish a lot.”
In my opinion, again, if any BHA chapter is turning away potential chapter leaders because your current chapter structure/organization doesn’t have an open leadership position or allow for quickly creating new positions, as needed, you should rethink your chapter structure. As Theodore Roosevelt also said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it, if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Experiment In Process
Words to live by for all BHA chapter leaders. And any thoughts on alternative chapter structures (with the ultimate goal of empowering as many chapter leaders as possible) are appreciated. We must continue to experiment, adapt and improve because our adversaries surely will. And the renewing, re-humanizing power of America’s wild public lands, waters and wildlife will only increase in value as the world becomes a more complicated and dangerous place.
Every U.S. generation has had its defining challenges and struggles, stretching back to the founding of our great nation: The Revolutionary War and War of 1812; The Civil War and Reconstruction (followed by the Jim Crow and, eventually, Civil Rights eras); World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic; The Great Depression and World War II. For our generation, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has served to remind all Americans of both our vulnerability and our strength; a strength built on over 200 years of democracy nurtured by open spaces and wild places. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, like democracy itself, is an experiment in process. And BHA, like America, will prevail due to the collective perseverance and dedication of our selfless continent-wide tribe.
We have faced many hurdles and threats since BHA founder Mike Beagle (a former U.S. Army field artillery officer) and the “Gang of Seven” stood around our founding campfire during March 2004. We will face many more going forward and need to be willing to experiment and change to keep the fire burning bright for future generations.
- The traditional board-committees structure governance model concentrates too much work among too few chapter leaders, oftentimes resulting in avoidable volunteer burnout/turnover.
- The best leaders endeavor to empower others to get work done with minimal (or no) supervision, then the mission completes itself (i.e., spread out workload/responsibility by recruiting/empowering more chapter leaders).
- “It’s critical that CLT members are pursuing their ‘passion projects’ that fit within our mission … there is no one way to host a successful event, strengthen the chapter, or advance our mission.” –Brien Webster, BHA Program Director
- Colorado BHA (Strategic Plan) Purpose: Inspire, Empower and Inform (IE&I = Motivate) our Chapter Leadership Team and Colorado BHA members.
- Colorado BHA has developed an in-house “Regional Directors/Group Leaders Guide” that is available upon request (from [email protected]).
- “BHA State Chapter Development (Recruiting/Retaining Leaders & Avoiding Burnout).” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 6/1/21.
- “Empowering Leaders: It’s In BHA’s DNA.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 1/7/21.
- “Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20.
- “Hunting For Experience: At BHA’s North American Rendezvous.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 7/9/21.
- “The ABCs Of LTEs: Writing Letters To The Editor.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 2/5/21.
- David “Elkheart” Petersen (founder of the first BHA state chapter, in Colorado, and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) books: www.davidpetersenbooks.com.
David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation.” During 2014 David was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation” and during 2019 he was the recipient of BHA’s Mike Beagle-Chairman’s Award “for outstanding effort on behalf of Backcountry Hunters & Angl
 https://www.defense.gov/Experience/Americas-Nuclear-Triad/; “Last Alert.” Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM) Newsletter: December 2005, p. 3; “Silent Sentinels.” Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM) Newsletter: March 2009, p. 1. (the article continues on p. 5, not p. 2); “A Higher Calling.” Association of Air Force Missileers (AAFM) Newsletter: March 2011, p. 4.
 Editor. Quotations of Theodore Roosevelt. Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 2004, p. 16
 David A. Lien. “Teddy Roosevelt: Hunting’s Rough Rider.” Whitetales: Spring 2004, p. 32.