Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members demonstrated again their passion and commitment to public lands and waters and to North America’s fastest-growing sportsmen’s group, forming four new BHA chapters and further expanding BHA’s influence across the continent.
The new chapters – Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota and Ohio – were officially launched following a vote by the BHA board of directors at BHA’s North American Rendezvous in Boise, Idaho in April. Less than 15 years after its formation, BHA members have established chapters in 39 states, two Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C.
Ty Stubblefield, BHA chapter coordinator and head of new chapter development, said that he “couldn’t be more impressed” with BHA’s grassroots leaders.
“This BHA energy, growth and youthful exuberance is unprecedented,” said Stubblefield. “The people stepping up to lead this organization are top notch conservationists who recognize exactly what’s at risk. I couldn’t be more impressed with their dedication, and the newest chapters joining our ranks are no exception. Our new chapters in North Carolina, North Dakota, Missouri and Ohio show that our wild public lands, waters and wildlife – and those who would step up to defend them – exist everywhere in North America.”
The state of Missouri is deeply rooted in the public lands of North America, commented Missouri chapter chairman Brett Thorne. The women and men of Missouri will be well served by having a BHA chapter to represent sportsmen, recreationists, outdoor enthusiasts and all public land users, he said.
“As an avid outdoorsman, I was utilizing public lands long before I knew or understood their value,” said Thorne, who lives in Chillicothe. “With more time and experience in the wild, my wisdom and appreciation of this value – and of the importance of protecting it for all – grew. This reason alone is why I joined Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. I am proud to be a BHA member and do my part for our public lands.”
North Carolina boasts one of the highest percentages of public lands and waters of states on the Eastern Seaboard. The Old North State encompasses 1.2 million acres of national forests and 2.1 million acres of public lands overall, as well as 301 miles of coastline, seven major rivers and nearly 100 lakes of significance, including the 30,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet. NC BHA is committed to being the voice of those lands and waters, said its chairman, and to support opportunities for residents and visitors to hunt, fish, and recreate on them in perpetuity.
“One of the characteristics I value most about the BHA community is that we are made up of individuals who are driven to take action – to actually do something,” said North Carolina Chair Luke Weingarten, of Raleigh. “Not one of us is content to sit and let others do the heavy lifting. Stories are great; talking is fun, but Backcountry Hunters & Anglers needs more than the sound of our own voices bouncing around an echo chamber. We need our actions to resonate – not only within our local communities but also in the nation as a whole.
North Dakota public lands and waters are under attack and sadly under-appreciated, commented BHA’s state chapter chair. From east to west are wildlife management areas, BLM lands, national wildlife refuges and more that public land owners can call their own, in addition to icons such as the Little Missouri National Grasslands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“It’s not surprising that our first project as an official chapter is an OHV signage project in the Little Missouri National Grasslands,” said Adam Leitschuh, North Dakota chapter chair, who lives in Minot. “Before we were even an official chapter, we started talking with Forest Service representatives. We will be starting this project by the end of May.
“A passion for public lands and waters defines the individuals who have come together to start this chapter,” Leitschuh said. “This doesn’t stop at our board. The diversity of people who have been coming out to pint nights – folks who not only use public lands in North Dakota but truly care about them – is eye opening.”
Ohio BHA members plan to promote the work of BHA nationally and within the state through education, volunteer work and legislative engagement. Buckeye State BHAers are committed to a life outside, and recruiting others, young and old, to join them, said Tony Ruffing, the Ohio chapter chairman, noting that “public lands are not a left issue or a right issue: They are an American issue.”
“Ohio has been ready for a chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for a long time,” said Ruffing, of Republic. “Within our state we have a forest revision plan underway within Wayne National Forest, which is currently threatened with fracking and pipeline construction. Get ready to see a lot of action here in the East! We have more to lose because of how little we have.”
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was formed around an Oregon campfire in 2004. BHA’s membership has doubled every year for the past four, and 2018 shows signs of continued rapid growth.