These days a type of gameday program is necessary to keep track of social issues battling for our attention. Racial unrest. The federal debt. COVID-19. Worker shortages. Government ineptitude. Political divisiveness. Seven days a week, each presents itself as a crisis, demanding, if not action, at least awareness.
Lost in this noise and too often far below the public's radar is the steady and consummately challenging work of land and water stewardship and of protecting the nation's relatively few untrammeled places.
This always has been David and Goliath stuff, with David metaphorically being the small subset of people so besotted with fishing, hunting, hiking, bird-watching or otherwise communing with nature that they battle Goliath in all of his and her environment-threatening forms.
Foremost among these is public indifference, followed by urbanization, industrial agriculture, mining and development, among others.
Yet the best conservationists, even in the worst of times, keep their shoulders to the wheel.
Greg Kvale is among these, also his son, Pete, and 1,500 or so other Minnesota members of the conservation group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA).
In Minnesota, 1,500 doesn't constitute a large conservation group. Ducks Unlimited, for example, has more than 40,000 Minnesota members and Pheasants Forever about 25,000.
Yet Minnesota BHA punches above its weight, in part because its membership skews young, or at least younger than the rolls of many boomer-dominated conservation outfits.
Importantly as well, BHA primarily focuses its efforts on protecting wild fish and critters living in wild places. The threat posed by mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, for instance, is among the group's local and national concerns, as is a planned Pebble Mine in Alaska and a mine near Montana's iconic Smith River.
"I joined BHA because I was looking for a connection to protecting public lands," said Greg Kvale, who was in Missoula, Mont., last weekend with his son, attending the BHA Rendezvous, an annual national gathering.
The Rendezvous was held entirely outdoors for the first time due to the pandemic, with most attendees camping. Workshops included one on emerging technologies and how they affect hunting and angling, and another on prospects for expanding free-range bison populations.
An event highlight was a wild-game cook-off.
Offered to judges along with chilled bottles of Grain Belt Premium was the Kvales' entry of "wild blu" mushroom soup, paired with natural wild rice pilaf with fiddleheads, pan-seared mallard with ginger sauce, and blueberries with maple sugar glaze.
Competition was intense. But the trophy went home to Minnesota with the Kvales.
"The cook-off was a big deal," Greg Kvale said. "Conservation of wild lands is about conserving wild game and fish and also about conserving the chance to gather and share food from those lands."
Also at the Rendezvous last weekend was Minnesotan Mark Norquist. The founder of Modern Carnivore (moderncarnivore.com) and a former state BHA board member, Norquist believes the group's voice resonates far beyond its numbers in Minnesota.
"We send out alerts to our members via e-mail on issues ranging from CWD in Beltrami County, to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the prospective purchase of land in Lac qui Parle County by the DNR to use as a state wildlife area," Norquist said. "We have millions of acres of public lands in Minnesota, yet access to them is not always guaranteed."
Fundraising banquets have long been an important revenue source for conservation groups. BHA by contrast regularly sponsors "Pint Nights," during which members and prospective members gather at local pubs or breweries to quaff beer while talking conservation.
These gatherings encourage kinship among what could be described as an underserved subcategory of conservationists, including people under 40 (or 30) years of age who might hike, paddle the BWCA, forage or otherwise hang out outdoors, but who haven't hunted or fished — but would like to learn.
Founded in 2004 by seven people sitting around an Oregon campfire, BHA is led nationally by president and CEO Land Tawney from the group's Missoula headquarters.
"Our membership was doubling just about every year for a number of years," Tawney said. "Then the pandemic hit and we more or less flatlined at 40,000 members. But this year's Rendezvous was a big success and we're moving again."
Surveys show a diversity of political thought in BHA, Tawney said, with liberals, conservatives and independents each representing about a third of membership.
"Under the Trump administration, there were wins and losses for conservation, and we held them accountable as necessary," Tawney said. "We'll do the same [under Biden], and perhaps play offense for resource conservation a little more, as the situation allows."
BHA's 2019 revenue was a little more than $5 million, a number that won't get the organization on the front page of this newspaper or on the evening news squeezed between stories about the pandemic, worker shortages or the federal debt.
But besotted with wild places and wild critters as BHA members and other conservationists are, they'll keep working — even if below the public's radar — to safeguard the nation's lands, waters and relatively few remaining untrammeled places.