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A Q-and-A with Patrick Berry of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers ahead of North American Rendezvous in Minneapolis

Patrick Berry, the new CEO and president of Missoula, Mont.-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, joined Outdoor News for a conversation about his first four months on the job and his outlook for the upcoming rendezvous in Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of BHA)

Plymouth, Minn. — On Jan. 1, Patrick Berry took over as the new CEO and president of Missoula, Mont.-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He replaced Land Tawney who’d led the organization for a decade.

This week, April 18-20, BHA is hosting its annual North American Rendezvous at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Berry joined Outdoor News last week for a conversation about his first four months on the job and his outlook for the rendezvous.

This conversation is edited for length and clarity.

Outdoor News: This is the first time the rendezvous has not been in the Intermountain West, right?

Berry: Yes, we know that the rendezvous was a special experience for our members and supporters, and our goal is to bring that experience to different places around North America where we’ve got folks passionate about our mission.


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Outdoor News: Minnesota has a strong chapter. By taking it on the road, is part of the idea to reach maybe people who weren’t willing to travel out West? Might we see future national events in Northeast? The Southeast?

Berry: Exactly. And it’s not lost on me that there is a pretty remarkable and healthy culture of outdoor recreation in Minnesota for hunting, angling, and other types of outdoor recreation. So it should be a recipe for a strong rendezvous.

It’s a bit of a work in progress assessing where the next best destination might be. We’re gonna learn a lot from this traveling rendezvous show, bringing it to Minnesota.

Outdoor News: You took the job in January after a national search to replace Land Tawney. You’ve got an impressive resume, most recently president and CEO of Fly Fishers International and also a term as the commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. That’s the equivalent of our DNR commissioner here in Minnesota. What’s your professional background? Did you come up as a biologist?

Berry: No, but it’s a good question. I did masters work in environmental science at the University of Montana, so I certainly have some science background. But I would say my focus has been in support of experts like biologists. And providing leadership and everything from improved operations and administration to fundraising and membership and strategic vision. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run the Vermont F&W department, which included all of its biologists and hunter-ed, fish culture stations, and law enforcement. It was certainly an experience of a lifetime.

Outdoor News: You were leading Fly Fishers International. Why come to an organization with a bunch of muddy-boots guys kicking around the campfire?

Berry: Because I’m one of those muddy-boots guys. From a mission and culture and community perspective, BHA represents who I am as somebody who considers conservation as a critical part of my experience as a dedicated hunter and angler. I appreciate the passion and the activist nature of our members and it just aligns with who I am incredibly well. And I was excited to take the experience and skills that I’ve learned along the way, including my time at Fly Fishers International, and help BHA with the next chapter of its journey.

Outdoor News: Since Land left, there have been some staff changes at BHA. Have you filled those roles?

Berry: There’s no question that John Gale, Katie McKalip, Tim Brass, and Land (Tawney) are missed, but they’ve had some exciting career opportunities, and each of them has made it clear that they care so much about BHA and they’re willing to help me in any way. The changes also have allowed us to consider how to structure the organization for where we want to be in five or 10 years and make adjustments.

So much of our strength in this organization is at the state level. And working on state-level public lands and waters policy allows a lot of opportunity to engage in issues that could cover anything from squirrel hunting to steelhead fishing. We can lean in and support our state chapters and those state level efforts; I consider that one of the opportunities in restructuring some of the staff.

Outdoor News: You’re from Middlebury, Vt., and still living there. Is part of your vision bringing an Eastern lens to this group?

Berry: I was actually a full-time guide at one time in Missoula, which is where BHA is headquartered, so I have a foot in both places. I will say you will never see us step away from some of those key public land issues like the corner-crossing case or losing access in western public lands or public access in general.

We are going to launch a national campaign about the attacks on scientifically based wildlife management. We recognize that hunting is conservation and hunters and anglers, particularly hunters, help maintain the carrying capacity for certain species. They provide the health and integrity of natural systems that support all diverse wildlife populations. There’s this kinship around this, whether you’re in Washington State or Kentucky, but they face the same threats whether it’s a public wildlife grab or anti-hunting folks or animal rights activists. It’s something that in addition to those big publicland issues, we’ll begin to sink our teeth into, because it’s a shared concern across our community.

Outdoor News: Another issue that’s erupted here in Minnesota are worries over land transfers to tribes. Last week, the state chapter of BHA issued a statement regarding its concerns on that issue and making sure there’s not a net loss of public lands and access. Was national BHA involved in approving that statement?

Berry: It certainly was something that we worked very closely with the folks in the BHA Minnesota chapter. They’re a thoughtful group of people and even at a national level, we have to understand what’s happening in Minnesota. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. The statement that we worked on was specific to Minnesota and understanding the issues there. And of course, because it is so key to our mission, we’re very concerned about a loss of public access for all recreational users, particularly in areas where there’s historically a lot of people who enjoy these resources.

Outdoor News: You’re a dog guy. Tell us about your spaniels.

Berry: I have five spaniels, all hunting dogs. The oldest and the youngest are English cocker spaniels and the three in the middle are English springers. Trained for both hunting and field trials, and, in fact, I judged a springer spaniel field trial in Minnesota a couple years ago. There is a tremendous and robust community of spaniel enthusiasts in Minnesota.

Outdoor News: Rendezvous is April 18-20 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Excited?

Berry: Anywhere you go in the country when you talk to BHA folks, they will tell you they found their people. So if you love hunting and fishing and you care about conservation and you don’t want to be the kind of person who’s pigeonholed or stereotyped into one group or another, this is really the community for you. I would encourage anybody who loves the outdoors and hunting and fishing to join us. It’s open to all, and I expect a good turnout.

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