Folks from across North America gathered in Boise, Idaho last weekend at the annual meeting of the world’s fastest growing conservation group. The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous was packed with classes on conservation as well as a small tradeshow and lots of activities for families.
BHA’s stated mission is to “Keep Public Land In Public Hands” and they lobby in Washington, D.C. to affect laws regarding the use of publically owned lands. They also have chapters and lobbyists in Canada and members in Mexico.
Leaders of each state or province chapter gather for training at the Rendezvous each year. Their locally-run chapters are like clubs for like-minded people who hunt and fish. At the Rendezvous, the chapter leaders also build relationships with other leaders and learn how they have overcome obstacles. The major focus of each chapter is growing membership.
BHA’s membership is growing rapidly. It was just 2,000 members in 2013 but is now over 36,000. Their goal for this year is to top 50,000 members worldwide.
Hunters and anglers aren’t their only target, though. Because their message and goals affect all public land users, they are also recruiting hikers, backpackers, kayakers and others who benefit from access to public lands.
BHA’s best-selling t-shirt has bold letters on the chest and states simply, “Public Land Owner.” They want people to understand that the lands managed by the Forest Service, Beaureu of Land Management, and other federal and state agencies don’t belong to the agencies but actually belong to the taxpayers. Those lands belong to you and me, and BHA strives to maximize their use for the public.
They also keep an eye on wildlife management and land leases. For instance, they donate money to help school programs teaching about wildlife and land use, and they also lobby about oil and gas development. Many of the classes at the Rendezvous were taught by scientists and focussed on things like the state of salmon fisheries. BHA’s activities attract supporters of all kinds.
A survey of BHA’s members revealed 33% are Independent, 23% are Republican, 20% are Democrat, and 16% unaffiliated while 8% listed no preference. It’s an interesting mix of ideologies that you might not expect among hunters — a group traditionally expected to be extremely conservative.
I’m a member of BHA and have enjoyed associating with people outside my usual group. There are many who are very liberal, but we agree that we want to enlarge and preserve access to public lands and we love to swap hunting and fishing stories. I never thought I’d be part of a lobbyist organization, but I’ve been impressed with the people I meet there.
The Rendezvous — or “Rende” as members like to call it — has been happening for the last eight years. This was its second year in Boise, but it will be back in Missoula, Montana (BHA’s headquarters) next year. This year the party attracted about 1,400 people. The Rendezvous started on Wednesday for group leaders, and the public and general membership enjoyed the Brewfest Thursday night, tradeshow Thursday to Saturday, and various other activities Friday and Saturday. Highlights of the conference are the Wildgame Cookoff and the Storytelling, the last activity on Saturday night. Members also enjoy meeting with celebrity hunters, anglers, and especially chefs famous for their wild game recipes.
Check out Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in your state or province and look for info about the Rendezvous in Missoula next June.