November 16, 2022 6 min read

We strongly promote enjoying the outdoors responsibly and safely. Backcountry conservation is important to maintain the traditions and heritage of our wildlands, waters, and wildlife. Here at HEST, we are proud to be partnered with Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) whose mission is to strive for sustainability and protection of our wild places, and fight for access to public lands.

We had the honor to interview  Josh Mills, BHA’s Development Coordinator and longtime fly fisherman and bird hunter, about his thoughts on BHA and what the fight for conservation truly means:

Can you explain your role within BHA and your journey of joining the organization? 

Personally, I have always been in love with being outside.  It's where I feel the most in tune with the world, whether it's swinging a fly for wild steelhead or following my bird dog Annie as we hunt the upland ground in Eastern Washington where I live.       

Starting in my twenties, I felt the pull of conservation with regards to our wild public lands and waters, especially with recovery of salmonids and steelhead throughout the Columbia Basin in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. It only intensified with the birth of my children and the want to leave them a better outdoor world for them and others of their generation. Starting with volunteering for the Wild Steelhead Coalition and numerous other conservation orgs, my life feels nothing but enriched by giving back to the outdoors. In 2015, I began volunteering for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and from the minute that began, I knew that this group and the members that make it up were perfectly aligned with my ideals. Go to any BHA event and you can feel the soul of the organization and the passion we collectively feel to protect and advocate for what we hold dear.  In any state in the union and into Canada, you’ll find great people who are wholly committed to conservation. 

What does BHA mean to you?

BHA means community to me. It's work projects to clean up our public lands and waters. It's storytelling around a campfire. It's sharing our outdoor adventures with anyone who's interested in being an advocate, no matter who you are. It's standing up for what you believe in and engaging in all levels of government for what is right in the outdoors. It's a network of friends from coast to coast who love to show each other what our favorite outdoor pursuits are. It's all of that, and a heck of a lot more.

How does the conversation about conservation and public land access change from region to region?

It's the same and different, at the same time. Same because access is the main driver for enjoyment of our 641 million acres of federal public land, and the tens of millions of acres of other public land throughout the country and into Canada. It's different because each piece of public ground has its own challenges, and with respect to public access to our waterways, each state has different rules that can both enhance and inhibit the ability to be public land owners. Out West, it is checkerboard land ownership that closes up millions of acres of public land without a way for public hunters and anglers to be able to use them. The Midwest and East all have their own challenges, but the binding factor is that the BHA crew is there to make sure if it's 10 acres or a million acres, we're going to advocate for folks to be able to use that ground. 

How is BHA amplifying the voices of state chapters to influence policies that prioritize conservation of key lands and waters, protection of valuable habitat, implementation of responsible land management policies, and resistance against the privatization of public lands, waters and wildlife?

BHA is unique because we work to empower our state, college clubs and Armed Forces Initiative clubs to help direct the organization’s priorities.  One instance is the Wyoming chapter's work on the sticky issue of corner crossing, which is a major topic of focus for the whole org. Along with that, the Arkansas chapter successfully got the state of Arkansas to cancel a land sale of 6300 acres that would have gone from public to private.  The examples go on and on. Water access in New Mexico, defending the spring bear hunt in the state of Washington and many, many more.  

How do you maintain consistency and stay on track to BHA's national goals when it comprises so many smaller chapters?

Great question. We have an amazing team of chapter leaders who are in constant communication with our North American policy team to identify the goals for the organization. Thankfully we have thought leaders and bulldogs who don’t back down and have the north star of access and opportunity guiding the org and our state chapters.

Any exciting stuff in the works? / Anything you in particular are proud of that BHA has accomplished recently?

The Public Lands Action map is a great tool to showcase what our org is doing throughout the country and tell the story of on ground action throughout the continent. This isn’t all the work, but a small cross section that helps to tell the story.

We are continuing an org wide effort to empower new conservation advocates through our R3 initiatives (recruit, reactivate and retain) and our Explore Hunting Workshops. There's a lot of people out there who are interested in hunting and fishing but don’t know where to start, and we are working to expand our "tent" to anyone who's interested in what we hold dear, no matter who you are or what your background is.     

There are big national policy issues that we're excited about, including The North American Grassland Conservation Act as well as the Recovering America's Wildlife Act that at national level will allow for continued recovery and protection of large-scale habitats throughout the country.

I am honored to be working for an org that is building enhanced relationships with tribal nations. We are working to be good listeners in this arena and work with first nations to hear their concerns, commonalities, and more. We are honored to share in the work to protect what we all hold dear.  

Lastly, I am excited about the work we're engaging in with respect to wildlife corridors and migrations. We're working to reduce the barriers to migratory big game animals so that they can make their traditional migrations.

There's always something fun happening with BHA, that's for sure.  

As a public land owner, how does one get involved in the stewardship of public lands, waters and wildlife?

The easiest answer is to connect with your local state chapter of BHA. You'll find a great group of people who will plug you in and make you feel welcome. From there, the volunteer opportunities are always there, from Pint Nights to cleanups and fence pulls – and so much more.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for public lands and conservation in the near future?

The challenges to public lands and waters never end. It can be a weary game to constantly be advocating for these issues, but it's always the right thing to do.   

There will always be nefarious elements of our society that want to take public lands away. There will always be that fight. Additionally I think the impacts of climate change on the landscapes from coast to coast are an existential threat we all have to recognize and mitigate any way we can.   It's a landowner trying to privatize public land. Its states and entities taking away access to a river corridor. It's people trashing access sites. The list goes on and on....BUT, this fight is a good one that we'll always engage in.

How do you personally enjoy public lands? Obviously Hunting and Fishing? How else? 

This answer can go on for a long time! I love floating down rivers throughout the West, casting to fish like Westslope cutthroat or swinging flies for steelhead and salmon. As said before, I adore upland hunting and in the spring, tricking an old tom turkey to come to my calls. More and more, I really enjoy finding more diverse ways to enjoy the fruits of the outdoors at the plate. Cooking brings my family together, and I love it soooo much when I bring walleye home to make tacos or pheasant nuggets that my kids absolutely love. Additionally, bringing my kids when we can is really important to me, as well as bringing new friends into the pursuits I love. There's nothing better than watching a fish eat a fly of a new angler in my boat and watching the light bulb turn on in their head. That's a killer experience right there.

Where is your favorite place to camp?

On any river that I can swing flies for steelhead. Waking up, making coffee, stringing up the Spey rods with a full day ahead is what I dream about often.

You can learn more about BHA or donate to their cause here