Backcountry group attracts young Minnesota hunters and fishermen

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The mountains, woods and rivers where these friends loved to hunt and fish were lost to mining and oil drilling, pollution, development and other intrusions.

From those campfire beginnings, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has grown across the continent, with chapters in 48 states and three Canadian provinces, over 40,000 members and a growing presence across Northland.

It’s in part like a dozen other conservation groups – including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited – made up mostly of people who hunt and fish and are passionate about their outdoor activities and the places they do them. make. But, rather than focusing on a single species or habitat type, the BHA has become perhaps the most active group nationwide in defending public lands as a whole. It means everything from million acre wilderness areas like Bob Marshall in Montana or Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to 80-acre state wildlife management areas.

The group’s motto is simple: “The voice of our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. Without wilderness, adequate habitat and public access, the group said, the future of hunting and fishing in the United States is doomed.

Members from northern Minnesota

“I grew up hunting deer and grouse in the Chippewa National Forest and the state and county lands around it and I never really knew what land we were on,” said Chance Adams, who sits on the Board of Directors for the State Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. (The group’s organizational system uses a single state chapter rather than local chapters.)

Adams, 38, who grew up north of Bemidji and now teaches high school social studies there, said residents of northern Minnesota should not take their vast tracts of public land for granted.

“Not everyone will be able to afford their own land. … I drew my money this year on public land. I do all my turkey hunting on public land. I hunt grouse on public lands. … And my favorite place is in the Boundary Waters. … I think I spent 25 nights up there this summer, ”Adams said. “Public lands allow me to do what I love to do. “


Chance Adams, from Bemidji, caught this smallmouth bass while in the wilderness of Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  One of the reasons Adams became active in Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the group's strong support in keeping public lands undeveloped and open to the public, including boundary waters.  Contribution / Chance Adams

Chance Adams, from Bemidji, caught this smallmouth bass while in the wilderness of Boundary Waters Canoe Area. One of the reasons Adams became active in Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the group’s strong support in keeping public lands undeveloped and open to the public, including boundary waters. Contribution / Chance Adams

The group espouses the advice of Theodore Roosevelt who once advised the nation to “preserve vast expanses of wilderness … for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether or not he is a rich man.” “

Although the group is apolitical (a recent internal poll found that 28% of BHA members consider themselves independent, 23% Republicans and 18% Democrats), it assesses elected officials on how they vote on key issues. conservation. And the group is taking strong positions on some controversial issues, including opposition to proposed copper mines near boundary waters.

“When I saw how active the group was on this issue, that was one of the reasons I joined. Boundary waters are my favorite place and we see that it (copper mining) isn’t worth the risk, that there are places you just shouldn’t mine, ”Adams said.

Adams also loves the faces he’s seen at BHA events: mostly young, with 70% of the group under 45, and passionate about land and water conservation. While many other groups worry as their members age outside of the outdoor activities they enjoy, BHA is one of the fastest growing conservation groups in the country.

Jordan Wolf of Duluth wanted to be part of that picture. A native of Duluth and a medical student at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, Wolfe, 27, said she grew up hiking and backpacking on wild public lands. But she has also taken up fishing and hopes to take up hunting once she graduates from medical school.

She enjoys fishing for brook trout in the Upper National Forest, rainbow trout in Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River (which winds through a state forest), and smallmouth bass in the wilderness of Wisconsin. St. Louis River (which winds through Crown land) and hiked the Boundary Route Trail through the summit of the BWCAW.

“I don’t think you can grow up in Duluth without the outdoors being part of your life. That’s why I stayed here. It’s just a big part of who I am. said Wolf. “And I saw (BHA) as the perfect group to get involved with to help preserve it all.”

Wolf sits on the state chapter’s board of directors and handles group communications, from social media to newsletters. The all-volunteer operation relies on volunteers like Wolf.

“I love that we have people from all walks of life and all ideologies,” Wolf said of the group. “But everyone appreciates and wants to protect our wild places.”


Mark Westphal of Cloquet tagged this wild turkey on public land in County Carlton where he works as a forester.  Westphal recently completed a stint on the board of directors of the Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.  Contribution / Mark Westphal

Mark Westphal of Cloquet tagged this wild turkey on public land in County Carlton where he works as a forester. Westphal recently completed a stint on the board of directors of the Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Contribution / Mark Westphal

Mark Westphal is a forester by profession and works for the Carlton County Lands Department. He has always been a hunter and angler and is now most into bow hunting. But he is also passionate about picking: mushrooms, wild leeks, just about anything eaten in the woods.

“I’m a picking junkie,” Westphal said, noting that much of his wild food research is done on public lands. “It’s a great way to get the kids outside. “

What Westphal loves most about Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the group’s pressure for conservation without stepping too deep into the partisan world of politics.

“I like their focus on conservation. It stays out of some of the weeds that I don’t like, ”said Westphal, who just finished a year on the Minnesota branch board. “I am a forester. I support solid science and the group too.

Westphal firmly believes that inspiring people to become more active in the outdoors, to become hunters and anglers and to use the hinterland is the key to the future of safeguarding public lands in the future. .

“If people use it and like it, it becomes more important to them and then more important to society,” Westphal said.

To this end, the group also serves as a mentoring center for young adults who wish to experience consumer outdoor sports, fishing and hunting, perhaps as part of the growing locavore movement for people to have more control and connection over where their food comes from. from.

“I love to share my passion for conservation and public lands with like-minded people,” said Westphal. “Watching other young adults have the same adventures is” extremely rewarding. It’s fun to share what you love with people who understand why you love it.


Logo contributed

Logo contributed

Minnesota Problems

On December 1, the Minnesota State Land Exchange Board approved the sale of 80 acres of western Minnesota farmland owned by Jo’s Family Farm LLC to the State Department of Natural Resources in order increase the size of a wildlife management area open to public hunting. The board vote ended a three-year battle by the landowner to sell his land to the state of Minnesota.

The DNR and the farmer came to an agreement to sell the land in 2018, but the Speaking Lake County Commissioners Council voted in February 2019 to block the sale. The farmer appealed the county council’s decision to the Talking Lake County District Court and got a ruling allowing the farmer to take the case to the state land exchange board .

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers provided written and oral testimony in support of the sale and expansion of the state wildlife sanctuary, a modest but important victory for hunters who use public lands, especially in the agricultural areas where so much wildlife habitat has been plowed.

The Minnesota chapter of BHA has also been active in the battle to keep chronic wasting disease out of the state-owned wild deer herd. They testified in favor of a state law to close all deer farms, redeem herds from farmers, and then ban the movement of the tame deer that many wildlife officials blame for the rapid spread of the deadly disease .


Mark Westphal poses with his son, Linden, and daughter, Olive, with a net of fish caught in the Upper National Forest.  Westphal is an active member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a national group that works to protect and expand access to public lands.  Contribution / Mark Westphal

Mark Westphal poses with his son, Linden, and daughter, Olive, with a net of fish caught in the Upper National Forest. Westphal is an active member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a national group that works to protect and expand access to public lands. Contribution / Mark Westphal

“We have this fantastic public resource in the white-tailed deer population that is loved by thousands and thousands of people, but we’re letting a hundred deer breeders risk it all,” Adams said.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has also taken a strong stand in protecting the BWCAW, opposing copper mining projects that could impact the wilderness in any way.

“I did a grouse and duck hunt in the boundary waters this year, this is my first time trying it and it was awesome,” Adams said. “I’m going to make it an annual thing now. We absolutely have to protect this place.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, the environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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