I Was Going To Join Backcountry Hunters And Anglers But…
September 8, 2014
I’m really not a big “joiner”.
I’ve been a part of a handful of organizations of course, over the years, but I don’t really spend a lot of time looking for new causes. When it comes to conservation and hunting organizations, I’m particularly cautious about throwing my hat in the ring until I understand a little better what I’m getting tied up with. For example, I’ve been a member of Ducks Unlimited since childhood (my dad bought my first few memberships, and I sort of kept it going from there). I know the work that DU does, and I really like their focus. It’s the same reason I joined California Waterfowl when I was in CA. They do good work with minimal, overt political agenda. A few years ago, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to send a few bucks a year to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation… mostly on the same grounds. RMEF is focused on elk and elk habitat, and that’s what I want my donations to go toward.
Recently, I’ve been looking into a fairly new organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. When I first became aware of this group, I was pretty sure it was something I may want to join… at least inasmuch as dropping the annual membership fee, and maybe attending the annual “Rendezvous” when I could.
It sounded like the organization shares a lot of the same values as I do. In particular, we share a passion for the backcountry and wilderness areas, as well as a desire to protect them. Even though I don’t spend as much time hunting and wandering public lands as I used to, I am a strong believer in the need to keep those lands open and accessible… not just for hunting and fishing, but for everyone.
Here are the key points from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission:
- ORV Abuse: BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. While we recognize that Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are useful tools used by many people, BHA works to protect fisheries, clean water and wildlife habitat from excessive motorized traffic and abuse. BHA educates the public on proper and legal use of ORV’s and the importance of enforcing fines and regulations for illegal use that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and breeding.
- Gas, Oil, and Mining: Oil and gas leasing is important economic activity, but America’s hunger for energy must be balanced with our responsibility to pass on healthy land and water for future generations. BHA will address energy development projects that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision-making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders. Mining: We all use minerals in our daily life and mining is important. However, if done irresponsibly, mining can leave lasting scars that pollute water and degrade habitat. BHA will address mining projects that will impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders.
- Education and Outreach: Part of BHA’s mission is to educate people about safe, enjoyable and sustainable backcountry hunting and fishing. In particular, we educate the next generation about this ancient tradition. The Backcountry Journal, our quarterly publication available to all members, and our national gathering, the North American Rendezvous, are our main educational activities. The Backcountry Journal is a 16-page glossy magazine with educational stories, hunting and fishing tales, project updates, and public land issues updates. The Rendezvous is a weekend of camaraderie, hands-on seminars, speakers, banquet dinner and auction. BHA also visits numerous sports shows around the country to visit face to face with local sportsmen about the issues they are facing and the work BHA is doing in that state.
- Backcountry: BHA’s members greatly value the remaining undeveloped, natural areas of our national forests and other public lands. We work to maintain the backcountry values of solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife. We work to deploy a variety of legal and administrative tools to maintain those values, including the Wilderness Act, where appropriate.
I can’t find much to argue with there. I “Liked” the BHA on Facebook and started following the discussions. For the most part, I appreciated what I was seeing. There seemed to be a mix of folks sharing backcountry experiences and some discussion of important issues, such as the movement to handover ownership of Federal public lands to the states… or worse, to privatize public lands. The very idea that the states can, or will, manage these huge public lands is naïve at best, and generally ridiculous. That’s a cause that seems, to me, to be pretty damned well worth fighting for.
So I started fondling my checkbook.
But then the conversations took a different tack… the conversations turned to contentious, ethics topics like high fence hunting, banning drones, and long-range hunting. And, as with any discussions of ethics, the holier-than-thou, elitists showed their true colors. I put my checkbook away. This was going to require some more consideration.
I read some of the BHA leadership’s comments in regards to these topics with some dismay. It isn’t so much that these guys express their opinions. I value that, even if I don’t agree with them. What bothers me is that the organization appears to be willing to leverage the power of its membership (and the members’ dues) to influence laws and regulations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with the focus on backcountry hunting and angling… or with the protection of the backcountry. Drones, for example, are an issue about which the BHA has been quite vocal. They have lobbied legislators and state governments to enact bans on the “use of drones for hunting.”
Now, generally, that doesn’t seem all that bad. To the general, uneducated public, it seems like the use of drones for hunting would be a bad thing. But the truth of it is that drones are a non-issue. I’ve written about it before (here and here, at least) so I’ll spare the extended discourse… but in short, the drones available to the general public are barely useful as hunting tools in any way that would provide a meaningful advantage to hunters in any setting. In the real backcountry, they’d be about as useful as tits on a boar hog, since you’d have to carry the damned things in, deal with limited battery life and range, and manage the additional challenges of operating a line of sight system in rugged country.
What’s worse is that most of the legislation is vague and barely enforceable. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money… and it has almost nothing at all to do with the concept of backcountry hunting and angling. (I do, however, agree with certain restrictions on these devices in national parks and other places where the thoughtless and inconsiderate operators are negatively impacting the experiences of other visitors… not to mention harassment of wildlife. But that’s really a different thing… more akin to problems associated with OHV use and mountain biking.)
And then there are the divisive topics like high fence hunting. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the discussion. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, one way or the other. But unless the BHA can make a damned, solid argument about how this debate has any real bearing on the backcountry, I question the value of the organization’s involvement. Let the individual members hash it out to their hearts’ content, but is it really in the best interest of an organization to segregate itself from a fairly significant potential constituency by taking some arbitrary, moral/ethical position? Where are these guys headed, in the longer run? Do I want to give my money or my name to that organization?
Don’t get me wrong. These organizations absolutely should be involved in issues that are relevant to their mission statements, no matter how controversial (as long as their positions reflect the will of the members). For example, RMEF has been very active in the discussion about delisting wolves and hunting them to control their numbers. It’s a hot and divisive subject. But it makes sense that RMEF would take a stance, because failure to control the wolves could very well upset all of the progress RMEF has made in restoring elk and elk habitat… not to mention the impact these predators would have on other species. This is right in line with the organization’s Mission Statement.
And I have no issue when organizations like the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett want to take a strong position against practices like high fence or long-range hunting. They can set their ethical standards as high as they like, because they are using those standards as rules for inclusion in their record books. In this case, it makes sense to draw firm, ethical parameters (because that’s what rules are, isn’t it?). And if you join one of these groups, you know what you’re getting into. That’s why I am not involved with either of these organizations.
With Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I get the feeling that they’re stretching a little too far. Maybe it’s because there’s a perceived need to make a splash, and hot topics like drones and high fence hunting get a lot of attention (and thus, drum up more membership). Or maybe it’s that some of the BHA leadership want to follow their personal agendas and drag the organization along with them. So they take a popular position on a hot issue, and it plays well with the general, knee-jerk activists on social media. It gets people talking.
But what I see, standing here with my wallet in my hand, is a bad case of scope creep (or mission creep, if you prefer). I see a message at risk of being diluted. And I see an organization that may not be quite clear on where it wants to go… or even where it wants to be right now.
And so, here I am.
I recognize some basic realities… not the least of which is that my individual membership in BHA really isn’t going to amount to much one way or another. I’m not some mega-rich patron with the potential to fund big programs. I’m not a widely read outdoors writer with an audience willing to go where I point (and spend their money while they’re at it). I’m just some guy… albeit, some guy who really likes the idea of a conservation/environmental organization founded and directed by hunters and fishermen that is dedicated to the protection of our wild places.
But I also recognize that, to borrow from Tyler Durden, I’m not a unique and beautiful snowflake. If I’m thinking these thoughts, then someone else is probably thinking them too.