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Outdoors Report: Missoula conservation group seeing rapid growth

MISSOULA – A Missoula based conservation organization has grown rapidly across North America in the last few years — and it’s not your typical conservation group.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers started around an Oregon campfire more than 15 years ago. Today, based in Missoula, BHA is a national organization advocating for public lands, water and wildlife.

“Our mantra is the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. And within that making sure you have access to public lands and waters and the fish and wildlife habitat when you get there,” explained BHA President Land Tawney.

BHA has grown from 1,000 members in a few western states five years ago to more than 34,000 members in chapters across North America in an era where hunting and fishing numbers are declining across the nation

“It’s partly because of this idea that it doesn’t matter who your parents are, how much money you made, what political party you belong to — these public lands belong to everybody,” Tawney said. “And so you start to create an awareness. I think that people want to get around that piece.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is unique as a conservation organization with nearly 75% of its members under the age of 45.

“We are trying to bring fun back into conservation a little bit. And so, one of the ways we are doing it is through storytelling events, another one is through wild game cookoffs,” Tawney said. “We are doing pint nights all around this country, these are places where people get together at a brewery and talk about conservation.”

BHA has created a community of people through these events who believe public lands belong to everybody.

“This sweatshirt that I’m wearing is not just a slogan, it’s a way of life. The 640 million acres of federally managed public lands belong to you, belong to [me] and to everybody,” Tawney said. “And I think that is unique in this world and it didn’t happen by accident and it isn’t going to be carried forward by accident.”

BHA hopes to have chapters in every state by 2020.

-Winston Greeley reporting for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

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