The first efforts to create a state organization in Oregon were made by Flathead BCH members Roland Cheek and Jack Watts, in 1977, in Enterprise. However, nothing permanent occurred until 1989 when Idaho’s Don McPherson was successful in helping to organize the High Desert Trail
Riders chapter in Klamath Falls and again in 1991 when he helped start the Blue Mountain chapter in La Grande. Then, in 1994 the Tiller BCH was formed in Tiller, Oregon.
On May 4, 1996, the High Desert Trail Riders were successful in pulling together 9 horsemen from the Oregon Coast Horse Association, High Desert Trail Riders BCH, Blue Mountain BCH and 10 interested folks from the Hood River area. With an assist from Randy Darling, BCHA president and BCH of Washington’s Al Pitts, Back Country Horsemen of Oregon had its first organizational meeting in Hood River. Howard Bailey of La Grande, Fred Jette of Hood River, Dan Applebaker of Klamath Falls, and Becky Clark of Florence agreed to serve as interim officers to get the organization off the ground. By the time of the second meeting, in Bend on November 23rd, 1996, Oregon had added the Coos BCH and Columbia Gorge BCH. The Tiller group and the Oregon Coast Horse Ass’n chose not to pursue membership. A donation of $1,000 from the HDTRBCH kept the BCHO afloat that first year.
The BCHO was accepted into the BCHA at the NBM in Plain, Washington, on April 25, 1997. Since then, seven chapters have been added: Elkhorn, East Cascades, North Umpqua, Sourdough, West Cascade, Emerald Empire, and Pendleton, with a new one currently being organized in the Burns area. State membership has grown from 129 memberships in 1997 to 350 family/single memberships in 2002.
That first year, the fledgling organization racked up 3,620 man-hours, 168 days of stock use and 11,296 miles of stock hauling on volunteer projects on public land. Keeping the backcountry trails open for stock users, improving railheads and stock-oriented campgrounds continues to be the emphasis in addition to education of recreational stock users through LNT training sessions and the annual three-day packing clinic sponsored by the HDTRBCH in Klamath Falls. Evidence of this is the fact that volunteer time has grown to 9,080 man-hours with 56,472 miles driven and 828 stock-days donated in 2001.
The continued commitment of the Back Country Horsemen of Oregon to its parent organization is shown by the Coos chapter sponsoring the 2003 BCHA National Board Meeting in Coos Bay, Oregon.
History of the BCHA
The formation of Back Country Horsemen took place in Montana’s Flathead Valley in January of 1973. Since then BCH progress is a matter of record.
BCH members have used their specialized knowledge of stock and the backcountry to bring about changes and modifications of restrictive management. BCH has participated in many agency meetings on land use planning and regulations and has become a strong voice for continued, responsible, horse use. This responsible approach has assured a valid consideration regarding regulations and 15 planning and has given BCH the support of other conservation groups.
Growth of the Back Country Horsemen organization continued with formation of additional clubs in Montana. In 1979 these clubs and one from Salmon, Idaho formed the Back Country Horsemen of America. Three more Montana clubs and one from Idaho were added in the next few years.
The Back Country Horsemen of Washington was incorporated in 1977 and developed an informal liaison with the Montana and Idaho Back Country Horsemen. In 1981 a California organization, the High Sierra Stock Users, was formed. After several years of discussion the four groups decided to merge, using the Back Country Horsemen of America name. A constitution was drafted in 1985 and adopted in 1986. It provided that the governing body of this new organization would be a board of directors elected from each state. Montana, Idaho, California and Washington Back Country Horsemen units became the BCHA. Since that time there has been a steady growth within the four founding states organizations. By 1996 there were additional state organizations in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming Additionally there were affiliate chapters in Colorado, Oregon, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.
In May of 1996 a group of affiliate members of BCHA and other interested horsemen met in Hood River, Oregon with the purpose of forming an Oregon State Organization of Back Country Horsemen. Application was made to BCHA and in April 1997 Back Country Horsemen of Oregon, with four member chapters, was accepted by Back Country Horsemen of America. Since that date BCHO has grown to eleven chapters and BCHA has grown to 14,000 members nation wide.
Philosophy and Purpose
The purpose of this organization shall be:
1. To perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses in America’s back country and wilderness.
2. To work to insure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use.
3. To assist the various government and private agencies in their maintenance and management of said resources.
4. To educate, encourage and solicit active participation in the wise use of the back country resource by horsemen and the general public commensurate with our heritage.
5. To foster and encourage the formation of new stat eorganizations and BCHA.
It was the original assumption that Back Country Horsemen would be a different type of organization, not the usual special interest one, normally operating as a protest group. It was felt that a service club, doing work in the back country, would lend credibility to the group when it became involved in criticisms of agency management.
It was also recognized that some of the complaints against bac kcountry horse use were justified. Therefore, it was determined that an educational program should be a fundamental principal of the group.
So, Service and education joined a determination to protect our heritage of back country stock use as composites of the “Purpose” printed above. Our name was chosen because it signified an interest in perpetuating recreational stock use on virtually all public lands.
We try to limit our interests to the stated purpose. Enough worthwhile organizations already exist to provide action programs in other fields, so anyone interested in those has adequate options to become active.
There are those who would limit or severely restrict the recreational use of horses and mules in the back country. The voice of one person standing alone is not often heard. As a State, National and International organization, 14,000 members strong, working with land managers, law makers and other user groups we can help preserve the horsemen’s rights to the recreational use of stock on public lands.
Back Country Horsemen of Oregon invites you to become actively involved in preserving your back country stock use by joining one of the existing BCHO Chapters. If no Chapter exists in your area you may join independently. Or, if you know other interested horse users in your area you may form a new chapter. Please refer to the BCHO Website.
Article by: Becky and Matt Hope
Back Country Horsemen of Oregon is a nonprofit organization focused exclusively on ensuring public lands throughout Oregon remain accessible to equestrians. Through our principals we advocate for private recreational pack and saddle stock use of all public lands and the stewardship of those lands. The Back Country Horsemen of America is the only national organization that promotes the use of private recreational pack and saddle stock use on our public lands.