Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Navigating Changing Times

August 19, 2008

Back Country Horsemen of Washington Illustrate Success

Graham WA: This quote from Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) President Bob Gish hints at the winding road this 3,500 member organization has had to traverse in order to fulfill its mission of securing the recreational use of horses and mules on public lands. Mr. Gish outlined some of this journey, as well as several major accomplishments his organization has secured, at BCHW's Annual Meeting.

As any BCHA chapter member knows, volunteering to help with the maintenance, repair, and establishment of trails and equestrian faculties on public lands is critical to the continuation of stock use in the back country. Not only does volunteer work fill a void left by many a stretched state or federal budget, "research indicates that volunteering adds to the overall economic output of a community, helps build cohesive communities, and fosters trust between citizens," adds Mr. Gish. Hearing the call, BCHW members have consistently increased their organization's annual number of volunteer hours from almost 28,000 in 2002 to just over 63,000 in 2007, the equivalent of a $1.462 million donation to Washington's public lands. Although a sizable amount, BCHW leaders warn that the tallied hours are a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of work still needed to be done in Washington's National Forests, and members stand ready to clock even more hours in 2008 and beyond.

BCHW has also been hard at work building partnerships and promoting the horseback riding community as responsible stewards of the land with other pro-recreational use groups as well as local, state, and federal land managers and elected officials. With increasing demands on Washington's public lands from other user groups, BCHW leaders view these collaborations as vital to continued equestrian access. "Remember the saying - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Only with reciprocal relationships and coordination will we be able to target and manage our resources effectively," said Gish. To this end, the organization's Public Lands Committee has worked with motorized and non-motorized user groups to plan relevant breakout sessions for the Washington State Trails Coalition annual meeting, successfully negotiated wording with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife that raised the number of persons gathered in a group requiring a commerce permit from 5 to 30, and has encouraged local chapters to assist the Forest Service in controlling the spread of invasive weed species on public lands.

BCHW has also been highly successful on another front in its mission to keep public lands open to equestrian use - legislation. "Our organization has had to broaden its scope out of necessity to include less familiar territory because our mission is under siege," Mr. Gish warned members several years ago. "BCHW must shift to encompass expertise in policy and lawmaking to counter rules and policies that would restrict access to public land by stock users just as effectively as if a trail was closed by a downed tree and no one was chainsaw certified." His message was taken to heart, and in 2007 BCHW accomplished a remarkable achievement by claiming a hard-fought victory in passing Washington's Right-to-Ride legislation. It was the first time that any BCHA organization successfully introduced and had legislation passed to protect equestrians' right to ride.

Today, BCHW continues along the many avenues it has forged in its quest to protect access for horse and mules riders on Washington's public lands. Volunteers continue their hard work in the back country, new affiliations with non-equestrian groups are being sought out, and advocacy in the marble halls of state and federal legislatures carries on. "We (BCHW) can be very proud of what we have accomplished, and I hope that we remain filled with enthusiasm for what is in store for our future as BCHW undertakes to navigate the changing times in which we live, work, and play," said Mr. Gish as he summed up his organization's many achievements while looking ahead to future success.

Back Country Horsemen of Washington is a state organization of Back Country Horsemen of America, a 13,000 member national organization that promotes recreational stock use on public lands. To learn more, please go to www.backcountryhorse.com or telephone 888-893-5161.

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