Maintaining access to public lands is the goal of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
The average American is richer than they might imagine.
That’s how Land Tawney sees it, anyway.
The fifth generation Montanan tells anyone who will listen that the nation is home to 640 million acres of federally-protected public land. That includes National Parks, as well as properties managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
And it’s all the property of America’s citizens.
“Let that sink in a little bit,” said Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We’re the envy of the world. That’s very unique.”
His mission – and that of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers — is to make sure everyone can enjoy it.
Founded around a campfire in Oregon in 2004, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has doubled its membership every year since 2013. It’s still small: membership as of the end of 2018 stood at around 21,000, Tawney said.
By comparison, Ducks Unlimited boasts 700,000 or so members, Trout Unlimited 300,000, the National Wild Turkey Federation 250,000, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation 227,000 and Pheasants Forever 140,000.
But with chapters now in 38 states and two Canadian provinces, “we’re the fastest-growing sportsmen’s organization in North America,” Tawney said.
Much of that expansion in recent years has been east of the Mississippi, with chapters taking hold in Pennsylvania, New York and New England, among others.
The organization works on state-specific issues in those places. It was involved in removing the prohibition on Sunday hunting in Virginia, for example, and is backing a similar effort in Pennsylvania.
But its overarching focus, its niche, is the same everywhere.
“What separates us is we’re solely focused on public lands and waters, making sure you have access to those public lands and waters, and the fish and wildlife habitat when you get there,” Tawney said. “We’re trying to make sure these public lands stay in public hands.”
And there are those who would sell off that property, he said. In the next few years, he expects to see more pressure applied to privatizing public water sources, too.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers exists to combat all that, he added.
The group pulls its money to operate from several pots. There are individual and life members and foundations.
It has corporate partners, too. It’s heavy on traditional “hook and bullet” types, from firearms manufacturers Weatherby and Kimber to scope and binocular maker Leupold and Federal Premium Ammunition, Tawney said.
But it’s also looking to connect to other “greener” groups. Patagonia is one.
Yvon Chouinard, a hunter and angler and founder of that California-based company, which makes clothing and other gear for mountain climbers, skiers, backpackers, campers and the like, took part in Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ annual gathering last year. There, he touted the need for outdoor recreationists of all stripes to come together on public land issues.
GearJunkie.com quoted him as telling those in attendance at the event that, “They say that hunters and tree huggers can’t get together. The only way we’re going to get anything done is to work together.”
Still, Tawney admits his group has ruffled some feathers along the way. It’s willing to have “on our team” anyone who cares about hunting and fishing, he said.
But it’s not afraid to call out those who aren’t. That includes those who are on the team sometimes and not others.
“I think what’s different about us is, we’re going to call it like we see it, every single time,” Tawney said.
“So when we feel like politicians are doing the right thing for conservation, the right thing for access, we’re going to applaud them. And when they do the wrong thing we’re going to hold them accountable. And we’re going to hold them publicly accountable.”
Would-be members of his group are encouraged to get involved in their state chapter. They host things like “pint nights,” which are informal gatherings at local breweries to discuss issues. They also do other events, including clean-up work on public lands, and generally encourage people – through email and other communications – to get and stay engaged.
And that’s critical, Tawney said. America has a rich legacy of public land ownership. Across most of the rest of the globe, he noted, the best lands – and the fish and wildlife on them – are reserved for the rich and powerful.
“And us commoners have to pick up the crumbs. But here in the United States, it’s a much different system,” Tawney said.
“The land doesn’t care who your parents were, it doesn’t care how much money you made last year. All it cares about is if you have two feet and a desire to get out on them.”
So Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and its members work to ensure that’s how things stay, he said.
“People in America sometimes think their voice doesn’t county anymore. And I would say there can’t be anything further from the truth. You just have to use it,” he said.
To join Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ public lands movement
Cost of becoming a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is $25 for an annual individual membership. Family memberships are $35.
Also, there are various three-year, lifetime, military/college student and supporting membership categories.
All members get the organization’s quarterly magazine, Backcountry Journal, email newsletter and window decal. There’s other swag, too, depending on how much you pay.
For information, visit www.backcountryhunters.org.
Want to see more? Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.