Photo by Tim Peterson
This is the continuation of our conversation with Hal Herring, host of BHA's Podcast & Blast, from the Winter 2020 issue of Backcountry Journal. For more of this interview with Hal and loads more great content, join BHA to get the current and every new issue of Backcountry Journal in your mailbox.
Those that read your writing, or follow you on social media, know that you are extremely motivated about protecting our public lands, waters and wildlife – the BHA mission. How did that come to be? Was there a particular moment – or experience – that instilled this sense of responsibility in you? Does having children play into this?
HH: My parents taught me the old adage, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I think about places like St. Vincent’s Island in northern Florida or the Apalachicola River and the adventures my friends I had in those places when we were in college. The list would go on forever – Aldridge Creek in Hunstville, Alabama (where we went when I was six years old), caves we explored and snakes we caught (I once caught and released a scarlet snake and a scarlet king snake on the same day when I was about 10 years old – I’ve never seen either of those species again). I am completely overwhelmed by the gifts I have been given by this planet we live on. There were still bobwhites around when I was in 8th grade; my mother pan fried them for me and served them on toast – an old Alabama recipe and one of the greatest, most sacramental meals I have ever eaten. The bobwhites are gone. Nobody seems to know why, exactly, but I do know – I witnessed it – we’ve treated that incredible landscape with carelessness and cruelty: spraying it, clearing it, channelizing the creeks, draining the wetlands and using it up. Clearly, there has to be another way. I feel the debt. There’s no way I can ever repay it; that’s not even a thing. But I can honor the gifts. I can celebrate the planet that has given us all of this. I can write about it, point out where we can obviously do better and research what that would look like.
We’re moving into a future where conservation and clean water and air are not going to be just the engines that drive an $887 billion recreational economy. They are going to be – they always have been – the engines that sustain our existence. We have had the luxury of abstraction here in the U.S. Lots of room to mess up: pollute the rivers, kill off the bison and the pronghorn, and then restore it all (albeit with billions of dollars and decades of tireless effort from those same great human beings we talked about earlier). Well, that luxurious wiggle room is disappearing fast. We don’t have the luxury of letting short-sighted or ignorant people unravel what we Americans – uniquely in the world’s history – have so painstakingly knitted back together. We are at a crossroads, and I feel like all of us, all of us who love hunting and fishing and the connections those pursuits create to the whole of Creation, well, we better suit up and get out on the field. We are in God’s pocket. We can take care of it, and we can forge new ways to live on this planet and we can, pretty much, have it all. Or not.
What is the most challenging part of hosting a podcast? The most rewarding?
Hal Herring: At first, by far the most challenging part of the podcast was learning to use and become confident in the equipment. I’m not a Luddite, but I have a very short attention span when it comes to technology, and I come from a time when nobody trusted technology. I sweated the SD cards, the headsets – the setup; this was a real problem. Ty Stubblefield (BHA chapter coordinator and new chapter development) helped me a lot with this, showing me the basics and letting me know that you don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk to record a podcast. I still worry about it, checking it all, OCD-style, but running through the halls of Congress and setting up on 17-minute deadlines and pulling that off (with the help of Katie McKalip, BHA communications director) gave me some confidence that I can mostly do it.
We have not recorded podcasts over the phone yet – I am wary of non-face-to-face conversations, so there is a tremendous amount of travel involved. I simply can’t record every podcast that I’d like to – there are so many stories out there and so much important knowledge to be gathered. (Especially right now, when so much is at stake with the relentless attacks on the environment, access and public lands and waters.) I spend so much time on the road that when I’m home I mostly just want to stay there, to run my dogs, shoot my guns, walk in familiar places, fish for little brook trout and fry them up whole. This is kind of tough on my wife, who would like to go places sometimes. I look for balance, but balance has never been my strong point.
As for what is most rewarding, again, it’s the people I meet, and the stories they tell. A long time ago, I figured something out: human beings who love the natural world and are willing to make a stand for what they believe in tend to be the very best kind of people. They are connected to ideas and passions that are much larger than themselves. Most of them are humble because understanding one’s true place in the fabric of the earth and of being lends itself to humility. But those with big egos are still using those egos for something larger than themselves – it is hard to be immersed in self, or entirely self-referential when you are fighting for clean water, a place that you know and love or a new way of living. Or, as the saying goes, fighting for something beautiful to leave behind to be experienced by future generations, our own and everybody else’s. I think that is why we remember the Teddy Roosevelts, the Aldo Leopolds, the John Muirs, Rachel Carsons, David Browers, Jane Goodalls and on and on … to people on the most local level (all conservation and environmental protection is local, isn’t it? Even if one is working to protect a landscape that they may seldom or never visit, as in Alaska or Siberia, the knowledge that such places exist, still intact, still vibrating with life, still ruled by the forces of the eternal, this knowledge enriches our own lives wherever we are, just as knowing that they are destroyed impoverishes us in some way) – we remember them because they served the idea that we, as human beings, could be less destructive and more aware … that we don’t have to be the agents of destruction or carelessness. That is powerful, and it is real. And a lot of those people are on our podcast.
Photo by Katie McKalip
What are your goals for the podcast? What are you trying to accomplish?
HH: When we envisioned this podcast, the idea was to find the voices – famous or not – of people who were working to make a better world through conservation and through deep engagement in the natural world: the obsessed hunters and fishers, the skilled, the visionary, the dreamers and doers. That is kind of how it has worked out, too. What I did not anticipate was how many of those people are out there and just how powerful their stories really are. I knew it would be fun – find people that you respect, that you would love to talk with anyway, and let them roll – but I did not know just how much fun it would be. I did not know how transformative it would be, for me, and for the listeners who write to me. I did not think about the power of creating a space in a busy world, to simply sit down and have a real, unhurried conversation about something that we are both passionate about. Now, I understand that idea better.
My goals for the podcast are to celebrate the natural world and the people who love it and who will fight and work to protect it. In a hurried, distracted society that is nevertheless utterly, 100 percent dependent on soil and water and rain and sun, we have made a place where a person can settle down and listen to what I hope are the verities of our time. I think we’ve set the bar pretty high – some of these interviews blow my mind and some of them have brought me wisdom or practical knowledge that I would not have gotten on my own in five lifetimes. My goal is to listen better, record, share wisdom and experience, celebrate, entertain, empower and change the world for the better.
What outdoor adventures are you most looking forward to in 2020?
Well, I don’t plan ahead very well. I can say what is happening right now (October 2019) – I’m packing in with a buddy and his horses to hunt elk in the Scapegoat Wilderness for the week to come. I get home for one day and I leave to work a job I’ve had for years now: running a 15-person crew planting sagebrush on the big range fires in southern Idaho, working with the BLM and the Mule Deer Foundation. If that job goes well, I get home in time to go pronghorn hunting, and then general rifle season starts, and I have a cow elk tag and two deer tags. My dogs will expect me to be waterfowl and upland bird hunting as much as possible until January 1, when, hopefully, there’ll be enough ice to start fishing Holter Reservoir for perch and ling. I’d like to get better at walleye fishing. I’ll be working on a book on our public lands, so there will be, again, lots of traveling (with the podcast gear, too). And on almost every one of those trips, I plan to buy a hunting and fishing license and hunt and fish as much as I possibly can.