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HITTING HOME: DUCKS, POLITICS, AND MONEY

November 13, 2015

POLITICS: DUCKS UNLIMITED FIRES MONTANA COLUMNIST FOR WRITING ABOUT PUBLIC ACCESS

It’s rare we dedicate blog space to something that doesn’t relate directly to Yellow Dog business, but as this news broke we decided it’s something that affects us all as recreational anglers and sportsmen. So please take the time to read through and see — just see — if this doesn’t rile you like it has folks here in the office.

Conservation author and hunter/angler Don Thomas, of Lewiston, Montana, was recently fired by Ducks Unlimited after writing about a public access issue on Montana’s Ruby River. The article allegedly offended the billionaire involved, who then pulled strings at Ducks Unlimited to have Thomas fired. Conservation authors have long been on the “firing end” of feedback from involved parties (threatening letters and emails are not entirely uncommon) but this reaction from a conservation organization has enraged sportsmen around the country.

Thomas penned the following in response to the event:

Ducks, Politics, and Money by Don Thomas

As many of you know, I have been a regular contributor to Ducks Unlimited magazine for nearly twenty years, serving as their Field Editor and writing the back page column in every issue. Not any more.

In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, A Rift Runs Through It, about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. (I will make a copy of that text available to anyone on request.) To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

Several points deserve emphasis. The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization. By terminating me for no reason related to my work for the magazine and the organization, DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.

As an outdoorsman and conservationist who supports the North American Model and the Public Trust Doctrine, I find DU’s action reprehensible. As a journalist, I find it chilling. Wildlife advocates today face ever increasing pressures to abandon these principles in favor of the commercialization of our public resources, largely from wealthy individuals like James Cox Kennedy. If every journalist reporting on these issues faces this kind of vindictive retribution, the future of wildlife and wildlife habitat — not to mention the hunters and anglers of ordinary means who form the backbone of groups like DU — is bleak indeed.

This issue is not about me or my professional relationship with Ducks Unlimited magazine. It is about integrity and the future of wildlife in America. If you share my concerns — especially if you are a DU member — I encourage you to contact the organization (www.ducks.org attn: Dale Hall), express your opinion, and take whatever further action you might consider appropriate.

Don Thomas
Lewistown, MT

You can read additional coverage in national news, including this piece in The New York Times via the Associated Press. In this day and age, we depend on journalists like Mr. Thomas to raise awareness about crucial conservation issues. If the threat of retaliation is so apparent, how many writers will we lose along the way?

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