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A Brief History of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers... and an Invite

03/10/2014 11:21 am ET | Updated May 10, 2014

Back in 2003 (as best old Gramps can recall), I was invited to speak about hunting and politics at a national meeting of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), held that year in Albuquerque. That evening, after my talk and panel discussion were done, I relaxed in the lounge sipping Crown Royal doubles with Mike Beagle, a "Roosevelt Republican" and hunter-conservationist from Oregon who had arranged for me to be there. Beginning where my talk had ended, Mike and I soon fell to discussing the embarrassing fact that too many sportsmen's groups seem to have no purpose in life but to try and get a bigger piece of the hunting-opportunity pie for their members. Meanwhile, few hunters' groups show any interest whatsoever in conserving the wildlife resource that is the pie they covet.

"What hunting desperately needs," one of us opined, "is a national grass-roots sportsman's group comprising outdoorsmen and women who are sufficiently enlightened to put ecological integrity above all else, including our own self-interests."

Indeed, what we were daydreaming about was a nonprofit organization built firmly upon Aldo Leopold's "land ethic." By "land," Leopold meant what we know today as the ecology -- including wildlife, fish and their habitats. "A thing is right," Leopold's land ethic proposed, "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

The next morning, a bit bleary-eyed from the long evening of barroom campfire philosophizing, Mike Beagle and I went our separate ways home, vowing to stay in touch and keep talking about our pie-sky concept for saving hunting from hunters. And frankly, I figured that would be the end of that, as whisky-inspired daydreams rarely prove to have sturdy legs.

To my surprise, a few months later I got a call from Mike saying he had talked the idea around with a few likeminded friends and they were planning an informal get-together to hash out plans to launch just such a group as he and I had envisioned in that Albuquerque bar. While for me, it been mere wishful thinking, for Beagle it proved a call to action. Consequently, on the appointed evening, in an Oregon backyard, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers was born and toasted to life with Crown Royal.

Of course, with no money and no staff, totally dependent on volunteers, BHAs first few years were tough and iffy and depended almost entirely on the efforts of the handful of highly motivated founders, who now were the board of directors. And yet, good progress was made and the fledgling group quickly gained national recognition for its big-picture altruism, boots-on-the-ground understanding of local issues, and ferocious tenacity. A major event for BHA during those early days was the formation of the first active state chapter... right here in Colorado. And to this day, I'm proud to say, Colorado remains the largest and most active BHA chapter (though others, East as well as West, also are doing great work and gaining fast). Quite recently, for example, CO BHA was the first to petition Colorado Parks and Wildlife to outlaw the use of aerial drones for hunting or scouting... to which request CPW wisely obliged, thereby setting a strongly positive ethical trend that other states now are lining up to emulate.

And that's the briefest possible overview of how BHA came to be and who we are. Now let's fast-forward to March 21-23 -- next week! -- and the Red Lion Hotel Denver Southeast, where a now mature BHA with members in every state and several foreign countries, and 17 active chapters in the U.S. and Canada, is holding its third annual rendezvous and 10th birthday celebration.

As vice chair of the Colorado chapter, I'd like to invite all conservation-minded outdoors folk who live within striking distance of Denver to join us for the party (I'm flying over from Durango). And please don't let the term "Backcountry" in the group's name put you off. This is not a pack of macho young studs who lug backpacks deep into wilderness to hunt and fish, though some of us certainly do. Rather, BHA is a public-lands conservation group composed of sportsmen working for sportsmen to assure healthy public-lands habitat for future generations as well as our own. BHA's lead campaign is the fight to stem the ongoing take-over and ruination of America's public fish and wildlife habitat by off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse and overuse. BHA also works to keep roadless backcountry free of new, unnecessary and ecologically harmful roads and motorized trails... permanently protecting public fish and wildlife habitat as congressionally designated wilderness... and riding herd on slapdash energy development, erosive clear-cut logging, and overgrazing by private livestock. Occasionally, as with the drone ban, we even wade into the wildlife management arena, playing no favorites except the "land" itself.

No matter how far into the backcountry you venture, or whether you hunt or fish at all, you are welcome to BHA if you share our passions for resource conservation and traditional-values hunting ethics as envisioned by Aldo Leopold.

If you can't afford to spend the entire weekend with BHA members from all over America, you're most welcome to drop by on Friday evening, March 21, for kick-off events including a reception, vendor booths and displays, opening remarks by BHA Executive Director Land Tawney, dinner, and a get-acquainted "backcountry bash" featuring live bluegrass music. And as a point of personal pride, it's a safe bet that Crown Royal will be in the mix as well, having somehow become the unofficial official BHA drink!

For more information on the Denver 2014 Rendezvous and BHA (including a link to the Colorado chapter website), go to www.backcountryhunters.org.

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