By Mateen Hessami - July 19, 2018 - Originally published in the Montana Standard.
I am the outgoing president of the University of Montana’s Backcountry Hunters & Anglers college club, which was the first-ever BHA collegiate chapter. There are now 18 student-led BHA college clubs in the United States and Canada, with more being established. I am proud to be part of an organization that prioritizes our generation’s role in the fight for public lands and our outdoor heritage.
My passion for conservation is founded on principles passed down to me from my uncle. He instilled the value of public lands, ethics and conservation — and how we as hunters and anglers can contribute to the betterment of our natural world. I have furthered my passion for conservation by pursuing a degree in wildlife biology at the University of Montana. My involvement with BHA has been a seamless and rewarding pairing with my academic studies and emerging professional path.
I was fortunate to be invited to attend BHA’s largest ever fly-in to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the federal Land Water and Conservation Fund, the most successful conservation and access program in the country. While in D.C., I met with representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. I urged them to support permanent reauthorization and dedicated funding of LWCF.
The LWCF testifies to the value of bipartisan collaboration that benefits us all. From baseball fields, dog parks and boat launches to wildlife habitat deep in the backcountry, it underscores the fact that everyone — no matter our socioeconomic status or place of residence — can enjoy access to public, wide-open spaces to learn, play and cherish. From the heart of Brooklyn to the wilderness of Alaska’s interior, LWCF has given Americans a quiet avenue to enjoy the great outdoors.
For me, LWCF has provided a diversity of outdoor enjoyment and opportunity. I learned to fly-fish on the Blackfoot River, frequently using the Johnsrud boat launch that was made possible by LWCF funds. I have enjoyed sunny afternoons with good friends at Jacobs Island Park, not far from my university. I have attended ornithology field trips to Kelly Island to learn Montana’s bird species and calls.
I believe the LWCF is critical to maintaining our outdoor American heritage. Our nation’s public lands systems is the envy of the world. A failure by our elected leaders to support the programs like LWCF that sustain this heritage represent a loss to our nation’s irreplaceable outdoor identity.
Mateen Hessami is a senior at the University of Montana studying wildlife biology and the outgoing president of UM's Backcountry Hunters & Anglers college club.