Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters & Anglers expands to 39 states, 2 provinces

In 2013, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers had around 1,200 members and two or three staff members. It now has 32 staff members and over 33,000 members. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

Aggressive outreach and a campaign aimed a younger generation have helped a Missoula-based sporting and conservation group extend its wings, adding new chapters across the country and thousands of new members.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, founded 15 years ago around an Oregon campfire, now boasts chapters in 39 states, two Canadian provinces and 30 college campuses. Nearly 70 percent of its members are under the age of 45.

“We’re in our 15th year, but most of our growth has occurred over the last five years,” said Ryan Busse, a member of the organization’s board of directors. “In 2013, we had around 1,200 members and two or three staff members. We now have 32 staff members, and as of this morning, we were over 33,000 members.”

Half of those staff members are based in Missoula, though their outreach has expanded well beyond western Montana. Last week, BHA welcomed its first chapter in Iowa, an addition sought to help establish a strong Midwest presence.

With its strategic approach, BHA anticipates making a coast-to-coast sweep by the close of 2019.

“We’ll probably be in all 50 states by the end of the year,” Busse said. “There’s been a real hunger for an organization that isn’t politically insular. BHA stands up for what it says it’s for, no matter where the political chips fall.”

The organization has weighed in on a number national debates in recent years. It sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service over public access in the scenic Crazy Mountains, and it praised the state’s congressional delegation for permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“The masses are awakening, and the public lands revolution is growing,” the organization pronounced after a sweeping public lands package went to the president’s desk last month.

The new Iowa chapter is BHA’s 39th state group, and already claims 300 members.

“Iowa is steeped in conservation lore,” said Land Tawney, the organization’s president and CEO. Conservation icons like Aldo Leopold and Ding Darling gifted us the legacy we enjoy today. Our Iowa chapter is molded from the same clay.”

After serving in conservation nonprofits for more than two decades, Busse feels he’s found a home at BHA. The organization’s youthful zeal and nonpartisan stance – and its firm position on public lands and conservation – has earned it an ever-growing audience.

“We meet people where they are, we do fun things and we stand up for the resource,” Busse said. “We don’t cowtow to one political side or the other. That simple approach is pretty refreshing for some people. It represents everything the industry side of it says it has always wanted.”