Conservation (& Conciliation)

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was (and is) inspired by the political activism of Theodore Roosevelt, the Land Ethic of Aldo Leopold, the hunting ethics of David Petersen and the fiery oratory of Hal Herring. And from the start we have been focused on public lands and waters conservation (and conciliation). To this day we’re following closely in the footsteps of our nation’s greatest hunter-conservationist (and Medal of Honor recipient), Teddy Roosevelt.[1]


In 1903 President Roosevelt and famed conservationist John Muir set out for Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. “By 1903, John Muir was sixty-five and more famous than ever. Mountain peaks and canyons, campsites and glaciers now bore his name … The Sierra Club he founded was growing steadily,” wrote Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.[2] “On May 15, they set off … in a caravan of wagons … a detachment of thirty African American troopers from the 9th Cavalry rode along as escorts …”[3]

“Roosevelt worked with John Muir, one of the earliest advocates for the formation of our national park system, and the founder of the Sierra Club,” wrote J. Scott Olmsted, American Hunter Editor in Chief. “In what is now a famous moment in time, Roosevelt and Muir camped in 1903 in the Yosemite Valley, when and where Muir convinced Roosevelt to return the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to federal protection as part of the formation of Yosemite National Park.”[4]

As a non-hunter, Muir did not always see eye to eye with Roosevelt. But, after the two met and camped out together in Yosemite they realized they shared a common love for the wilds and together became a potent force for conservation, observed Field & Stream contributor David Stalling. “It’s a lesson, I think, we should still heed today to work cooperatively with others—focusing on our shared love of the land—to protect, restore and sustain the fish and wildlife habitat we all enjoy,” David said.[5]

From the days of Teddy Roosevelt to the present day, hunters and anglers have been fighting to protect our “wild public lands, waters and wildlife” and advocating for conservation and conciliation. The benefits and synergies of combining the efforts of all outdoorsmen and women (when and where possible) will be necessary to protect and perpetuate our great public lands estate, as explained by the knowledgeable hunter-conservationists below.

  • In How Sportsmen Saved the World, E. Donnall Thomas Jr. said: “Faced with human development’s ever-increasing demands upon habitat, wildlife today needs advocates more than ever before. When wildlife advocates work together, wildlife wins; when they bicker, wildlife loses.”[6]
  • Former Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) President Doug Applegren adds: “Our goal must be to work with diverse parties, find common ground and develop collaborative solutions. This requires a changing paradigm in order to consider all options and develop innovative strategies.”[7]
  • At the 2018 BHA North American Rendezvous in Boise, we were joined by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. “They say that hunters and tree huggers can’t get together,” Chouinard said. “That’s bullshit. The only way we’re going to get anything done is to work together.”[8]
  • Peter Churchbourne, Director, NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum adds: “… the hunting community must appeal to non-hunters through common goals, motivations and values … Hunters and non-hunters share a lot of common ground, especially a love of wildlife.”[9]
  • Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance (MOHA) president Dave Carlson agrees: “People have come to MOHA and asked, ‘Why are you even meeting with those environmental people?’ My answer to that is we have common ground to stand on. I think sportsmen and anglers are conservationists, and, by God, in that sense, we are environmentalists, too.”[10]
  • “If you don’t want to see America become like Europe, with hunting confined to estates reserved for a wealthy elite, then get over your prejudices and join forces with the environmental movement; and to my fellow environmentalists, if you want 15 million allies, get over your snobbery and find common ground with hunters.” -Philip Caputo, Field & Stream[11]
  • In the words of Rich Landers (2015 BHA Ted Trueblood Award recipient): “Any sportsman who isn’t an environmentalist is a fool.”[12]

For those who weren’t able to attend the 2021 BHA North American Rendezvous at Fort Missoula (June 3-5), one of the highlights was Hal Herring (host of BHA’s Podcast & Blast and 2016 Ted Trueblood Award recipient) inspiring and reminding us (via  a cautionary tale) about what we’ve gained and could very well lose (see the “Campfire Stories” link below) without the constant sacrifice and vigilance of public land owners/patriots across the country and continent.[13]


Along the same lines, Hal wrote in the Winter 2014 Backcountry Journal: “We are the carriers of the fire. We are the repository of 30,000-40,000 years of human passion and drive to hunt. We totally evolved to live this way. It’s deep, it’s blood, it’s cold, darkness and rough terrain. Then back to blood again. We need to be sure this elemental fire doesn’t go out.”[14] Shane Mahoney, president and CEO of Conservation Visions, Inc., said when it comes to wildlife, “Too few people care, and those who do are divided.”[15]

The growing need is for these differences to be overcome. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Boone and Crockett Club, Audubon, and the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society) joined forces. Putting aside differences in approach and ignoring differences in attitudes, in less than a decade these three groups were critical to the establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge Act, the Fur Seal Act, the Bison Act, and the Millinery Act. It’s worth considering how we put aside our differences once again.[16]

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers founder Mike Beagle and Colorado BHA (the first BHA state chapter) founder David Petersen both worked for Trout Unlimited during BHA’s formative years.[17] Our President & CEO Land Tawney and Conservation Director John Gale worked for the National Wildlife Federation (founded by a hunter in 1936) before joining BHA’s National Staff.[18] More proof that hunting, angling and other conservation groups can still work together for our common cause of wildlands and wildlife preservation.[19]

Conciliance, that’s the ticket,” David Petersen wrote in Heartsblood. “A lasting coalition of objective, intelligent, far-seeing lovers of nature’s besieged grandeur, bound in a determined political coalition, working through every possible venue on behalf of natural wildness, natural freedom, and the dignity of all life … that must be our common goal. What is the haunted look on the face of Wyeth’s The Hunter?[20] It is love. It is freedom. It is hope.”[21]

For additional information see:

  • David “Elkheart” Petersen (a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) books:
  • “2021 Rendezvous Recap-Campfire Stories: Hal Herring.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/1/21.
  • Conservation and the Future of our Hunting Traditions: Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) Programs Spreading Nationwide.” Colorado Outdoors: 3/12/19.
  • Women Walking Point in Hunting and Shooting Trends.” Colorado Outdoors: 1/12/15.
  • “Hunting ethics & fair chase.” Colorado Outdoors: 6/30/14.
  • “Keeping the ‘hunt’ in hunting.” Colorado Outdoors: 6/9/14.
  • David Petersen and Keith Curley. “Where The Wild Lands Are: Colorado.” Trout Unlimited: 2009.

[1] David A. Lien. “Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20; David A. Lien. “Teddy Roosevelt: Hunting’s Rough Rider.” Whitetales: Spring 2004, p. 32.

[2] Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, p. 94.

[3] Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, p. 95.

[4] J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief. “Theodore Roosevelt And the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.” American Hunter: February 2021, p. 25.

[5] David Stalling. “Exploring South Lake Tahoe.” Field & 12/27/11.

[6] E. Donnall Thomas Jr. How Sportsmen Saved the World: The Unsung Conservation Efforts of Hunters and Anglers. Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2010, p. vii.

[7] Doug Applegren, MDHA President. “Ten Years From Now.” Whitetales: Summer 2019, p. 4.

[8] Morgan Mason. “Tree Huggers & Hunters Unite: Patagonia Founder Joins BHA Rendezvous.” 4/17/18.

[9] Peter Churchbourne, Director, NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum. “Why Public Opinion Of Hunting Matters.” American Hunter: March 2021, p. 26.

[10] Javier Serna. “Conservationists weigh in on commish selection.” Outdoor News: 1/18/19, p. 6.

[11] Philip Caputo. “Bullet Points.” Field & Stream: 9/10/21.

[12] Katie McKalip. “Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Honors Sportsmen Leaders, Raises Funds for Conservation at Annual Rendezvous.” BHA: 3/17/15.

[13] “2021 Rendezvous Recap-Campfire Stories: Hal Herring.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 9/1/21.

[14] Holly Endersby. “Hal Herring: Fighting Indifference Word by Word.” Backcountry Journal: Winter 2014, p. 9.

[15] Russ Mason. “Review: The North American Model of wildlife conservation.” Outdoor News: 8/13/21, p. 45.

[16] Russ Mason. “Review: The North American Model of wildlife conservation.” Outdoor News: 8/13/21, p. 45.

[17] David Petersen and Keith Curley. “Where The Wild Lands Are: Colorado.” Trout Unlimited: 2009.

[18] Lily Raff McCaulou. Call Of The Mild.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012, p. 138.

[19] Hal Herring. “Outdoor Gear Manufacturers Are Investing, Literally, in Habitat Protection.” Field & Stream: 3/11/15.

[20] Wyeth’s painting entitled The Hunter is found on the cover of Petersen’s book Heartsblood.

[21] David Petersen. Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books, 2000, p. 251-252.

About David Lien

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