Recently I was honored to join the Board of Directors for the new Kentucky chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The national group is dedicated to the conservation of wild places in the United States. Their mission statement contains the following language and ultimately this is what led to my joining their efforts:
It’s time for national conservation groups from all corners of the continent to set aside differences in philosophy or politics. It’s time to shake hands. It’s time to get something done. The continuation of the very things we love – hunting, fishing, wild places, wildlife – depends upon our ability to move forward.
As many readers know, I have written for many years about my love of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive movement. Many of my favorite American institutions and accomplishments were brought about by Progressive reformers on both sides of the aisle working together towards a common cause in the first half of the 20th century. My work with BHA represents my third board membership experience and in the previous two cases, with other organizations, it was immensely rewarding to collaborate with others I didn’t agree with initially.
My little corner of the outdoor community has that Progressive spirit. I often jokingly refer to them as ‘hipster outdoorsmen’ because they combine a love of the outdoors, a love of high cuisine, a preference for microbrews and a tendency to dress a little more trendy than the proudly-redneck hunters I grew up. We don’t talk a lot about our politics when we get together. There is also a nearly religious belief in ‘trailhead diplomacy’ where we try to build relationships with other outdoor enthusiasts that may not carry guns of fishing poles into the woods, but love the land as much as we do.
BHA has doubled its membership every year for the past five years and currently sits at 24,000 members nationwide. Recently they surveyed that membership about their demographics and the results were heartening for their diversity and the youth of this movement:
- 68% are age 45 or younger;
- 33% identify as Independent, 23% as Republican, 20% as Democrat and 16% as ‘none of the above
That second statistic, with membership divided so closely between R, D and I is what makes me excited. It’s that diversity with a common goal that embodies the Progressive spirit. It also makes me wonder what other big issues like ‘public lands’ are out there waiting for a diverse group of individuals to join together on. I would encourage readers to share their ideas below. My goal is finding that common ground with each of you.