The American conservation movement was founded in the 19th century by sportsmen such as Theodore Roosevelt. When TR was a Dakota Territory rancher in the mid 1880s, he took many hunting trips, where he saw firsthand the harmful consequences of poor land and wildlife stewardship. Those experiences helped shape Roosevelt’s insight that “conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”
With fellow sportsmen, Roosevelt founded the Boone & Crockett Club toadvocate for conservation. The club is still around, headquartered in Missoula, Montana, where last weekend, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) held its North American Rendezvous. BHA is a voice for sportsmen who value a traditional backcountry experience: heading deep into unspoiled forests, mountains, and grasslands on foot or horseback to put their outdoor skills to the test chasing a buck or casting for trout.
The backcountry, those blank spots on the map that pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold spoke of, are wild places that put us in closer touch with the primal forces of creation, whatever one believes those forces to be. In the backcountry, you have to step up your game, for nature will challenge you with remoteness, steep terrain, unpredictable weather, and wily creatures wary of two-legged interlopers. In the backcountry, where urban noise, machines, and crowds are out of sight and out of mind, one can experience the wilderness that shaped our nation and defines our character to the present day.
Hunters and anglers who appreciate the Big Wild do what Theodore Roosevelt did back in his Dakota ranching days: serve as eyes and ears on the ground. They warn us of threats to great natural places that offer the hunting and fishing experiences of a lifetime. They have a special credibility in vouching for those jewels that are worth protecting, unspoiled, for future generations. The people who fish and hunt our backcountry lands founded America’s conservation movement. Their voices are vital for carrying the movement forward into the 21st century.