Journalist fired for writing about public access

katqanna

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I just got an email from Don Thomas, a conservation hunter/angler and writer, who lives in Lewistown, MT. He sent me an article he just wrote about his firing. It needs to be shared and the implications for conservation when billionaires, or politics, can pull strings like this, effectively silencing our conservation writers. I called and asked permission to share on my newsletter and here, which was granted.

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[/QUOTE]
 
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Have we found a strong candidate to operate Big Finn's website the www.thepublichunter.com?

This is a sad commentary on he state of affairs for our wild lands and politics in general. It is long past time for the middle to speak up and demand we find a common ground. Obviously DU no longer needs my money or time. Just like a politician, they have found a single donor to satisfy all their financial needs. The people be damned, we are not represented.

It would be fantastic if organizations like DU, PF, RMEF, Delta Waterfowl, and the like would instead return these generous donations and say no thank you we will find our funding elsewhere. It is time for reasonable men to stand up and be counted.

Thanks Kat for the effort you make to bring our attentions to these issues.
 

rmyoung1

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Submitted a nice comment on DU's "contact us" page on their website. That's pathetic. I hope they get blistered over it.
 

belly-deep

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Money talks. Nothing new.

Is DU still a hunting org? Or are they mostly concerned about preserving the poor little quackers ponds. My foggy memory says leaning towards the latter, but I haven't checked in a while (never could figure out why anyone was concerned about saving things that taste like flying turds).
 

Hatchie Dawg

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I decided a long time ago DU was a rich mans club. I quit donating years ago. Sounds like further confirmation to me.
 

shootbrownelk

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I decided a long time ago DU was a rich mans club. I quit donating years ago. Sounds like further confirmation to me.

Me too Hatchie Dawg, DU has been a rich man's club for many decades. I quit the organization shortly after the lead shot ban. I have no intentions of ever joining again.
 

Bozone

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Dr. Thomas is a family friend, and was my doctor during high school in Lewistown. He influenced much of my hunting through his writing and has always been a resource, teacher and all around wealth of knowledge on all things hunting and fishing. As I was gaining hunting experience during my teens, I would always try and run into Don, who patiently answered my countless questions about hunting.

This angers me on many levels, and reinforces the BS positioning many of the so called 'conservation groups' take, promising to defend and protect habitat, etc. for all. DU has officially cemented its place for me as a money grubbing sellout. Get the money, do what your told, never question morals, ethics or possibly legality, and nod and smile. My money will go to helping others NOT join DU from here on out.

Well, now we know -- DU -- a rich man's club, and if the money and pressure is big enough, you do what they want. I am not sure, but isn't that what a whore does?
 

hank4elk

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I quit DU 20+ yrs ago for this type of stuff.
I almost quit RMEF for same type of stuff yrs ago,but they sort of changed their tune....
 

roknHS

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In my opinion, most of the big conservation organizations started small with good intentions. Average folks identified with their cause and made the donations or bought the memberships that got them started. Then, as they grew bigger and bigger, the money became a corrupting influence. Now, they all have multimillion dollar office buildings and all the bobbles and bells and big expense accounts that go with the territory. They take for granted the common, average guy or gal that sends the donations or buys the subscriptions. Big dollar folks become more of the focus for the simple reason they have more money to give. Make no mistake in your view of all these groups........they may tell you they are a conservation organization........but, in truth they are a business.
And in all things business...........if you want to know why an event took place........Follow The Money.
 

RobG

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Several years ago Trout Unlimited was pressured by major donors to drop their advocacy for stream access. I think the pressure might have even have came from Cox-Kennedy. Anyway, the membership revolted BIG time, lead by the Montana chapters. TU's leadership was changed and they continue to advocate for access. Does the membership of DU have the same cojones?
 

Big Fin

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My email that was sent to DU last night.

If you know Don Thomas, you know a man of character and principle. He could hunt anywhere he wants, whenever he wants. In spite of the opportunities he could have personally, Don advocates for the bigger picture of hunting and conservation, not what is best for Don Thomas. He has an articulate way of distilling a topic to its basic points, with use of facts and information. He has always been a very vocal advocate for DU and wetlands conservation, making this situation even more curious, disappointing, maybe even worrisome.

I've followed Don's writings for years. He sent me a personal note of support when a public effort was made to keep me off the Board of RMEF. He and I talked a few times this summer. He has an open invitation to be on the podcast and I hope schedules allow for that. He would be a very compelling guest.

I do not know Mr. Kennedy. For all I know, he might be a stand up guy who just has a different perspective on public access laws than I do. I do know some people who work for/with Mr. Kennedy and they are great folks; folks I would call "foxhole friends" (the guys you want in your foxhole when the artillery is landing all around you). I've never seen his properties. I don't even know that I've even driven by any of his properties. Any Montana resident would have to be living under a rock to not know of the decade-long legal battle he has fought in Montana with regards to interpretation of our Stream Access Law.

DU's work in Montana just got a lot more difficult. Too bad. When I was co-chair of the local committee our committee was comprised of mostly average guys trying to make a living, a few millionaires, and everything in between. Our committee and our chapter truly was big enough for "all perspectives and all opinions."

Dear Regional Director (person I know, but name not given here):

I hope this finds you well. As you know, I was chairman of the Bozeman Ducks Unlimited Chapter from 2002-2007, co-chairing a tribute event for Eric Pierce in 2011. I am a Life Member of DU and have been very dedicated to the cause of Ducks Unlimited and wetlands conservation.

Over time, I have come to very much enjoy the back page column of my DU magazine written by E. Don Thomas. Over the last few years Don and I have had chance to correspond and to visit personally about many issues I am involved with, most of which pertain to public land hunting. My entire platforms of a TV show, a web forum, and a podcast all relate to public land hunting; topics Don finds very important to the future of hunting. All studies show that access to land is the most common cause for people quitting hunting, not hunting as much, or not getting into hunting though they come from a hunting background. Unfortunately, in Montana and elsewhere, people have purchased large acreage and as part of protecting their land investment they make decisions that can result in further access challenges. None of that is good for hunting, fishing, or conservation.

In my time of involvement with DU, both locally and at national conventions, it became obvious that Mr. James Cox Kennedy was a large contributor to DU. Being the most profitable chapter in Montana during that time and having Mr. Kennedy file continual lawsuits and appeals that would impact the interpretation of the Stream Access Law in Montana, I had to field many difficult questions from members and donors. Many refused to support DU because of the actions of Mr. Kennedy.

My best explanation was that DU was “big enough for all opinions and all perspectives,” so long as the focus on wetlands conservation was shared. Not everyone agreed with that response, but I felt it was reflective of how DU was able to appeal to all folks, wealthy and less wealthy, land owning supporters and those dependent upon public land.

I’ll try to connect the dots for the purpose of this email. Below is a copy from Don Thomas explaining why he has been removed from his column with DU. I have no reason to doubt what Don has stated. In fact, knowing Don and seeing him advocate so passionately for conservation, he has earned the benefit of most doubt that anyone could raise in my mind. From reading with Don has sent, it seems that maybe DU is no longer “big enough for all opinions and all perspectives” as I had always tried to explain to folks upset with the lawsuits of Mr. Kennedy.

I understand this is not your decision. So, I would ask that you forward this email to the appropriate people. As the news of a highly respected person such as Don being removed from the DU magazine masthead after so many years of fine work, supposedly for factual comments in a different publication detailing the well-known legal actions that most Montanans disagree with, your work in Montana seems will become a much greater challenge.

I will always share the mission of wetlands conservation. DU will always hold a special place in my heart, for all of the great friends I have made through my volunteerism. Yet, if DU is going to allow donors/board (current or ex-board) to have this level of sway over the message of the magazine and to employ their positions with DU to try engage DU in personal skirmishes that donor or board member has, it surely causes me to ponder what path DU is taking.

I have bolded and italicized the very salient points Don listed in the second to last paragraph. None of us are bigger than the cause of conservation. Not me, not Don, not Mr. Kennedy. Hunting and conservation need all of us who share the conservation mission.

I understand the situation with large donors, sitting as a board member of a national hunting-conservation group. Yet, I can assure you that I would personally voice strong opposition against any donor trying to use their financial donations, or any current or former board member trying to use their board position, as a means by which to engage the conservation group as a pawn in their personal battles that have nothing to do with the conservation group in question.

Thanks for all you do for Ducks Unlimited. I know your job requires immense work and dedication. I know emails such as this do not make your job any easier.

I would ask that you forward this email to the appropriate person. If they feel inclined to respond, I would ask that they not have you make that call, as you have more than enough important work to do on behalf of wetlands conservation.

Best to you.

Randy
 

JLS

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Several years ago Trout Unlimited was pressured by major donors to drop their advocacy for stream access. I think the pressure might have even have came from Cox-Kennedy. Anyway, the membership revolted BIG time, lead by the Montana chapters. TU's leadership was changed and they continue to advocate for access. Does the membership of DU have the same cojones?

I'm not really sure that the greater proportion of DU members are all that concerned with public access issues. I could be completely off base here, but that's my general feel of for the upper echelon of donors.
 

Nameless Range

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This is a shame, and though there is a lot of wisdom in "follow the money", I think it is important to remember that some great orgs will have donors who are not so great - in terms of things somewhat related to the mission of the org. Remember, a somewhat fringe-left Swiss Billionaire provides a significant sum of money to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, but the work they do means more to me than the fact that one of their donors stands for a fair amount I disagree with.

That said, DU should be very concerned, and those that are members should raise hell. We've seen conservation orgs go though somewhat analogous situations (RMEF and HR 1581 comes to mind), and an uproar amongst membership can make upper management feel the squeeze and right the ship, else they lose all credibility moving forward.
 

Bambistew

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Are you saying that conservation orgs don't represent the average hunter? Who would have thought such things... the Wealthy Sheephunter Foundation is near the top of the hypocrite list... sell them animals to the highest bidder because that's the only way to save them sheep. By killing them one at a time.
 

smarandr

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Here's the online contact page for DU: http://www.ducks.org/about-du/contact-du-online

Give 'em both barrels.

My message:
It has come to my attention that Don Thomas, who pens the back page column (which I very much enjoy) for the DU magazine, was recently let go because of an article which he wrote for a publication completely unrelated to DU or it's mission. It is my understanding the article offended a major donor to DU who has been fighting to change Montana stream access to the detriment of the public, and for that reason Don was let go. If this is true it may be time to reconsider my affiliation with DU. I applaud all the work DU does in conserving and protecting wetlands, but to stifle a voice that is a champion for public access--a value which I thought DU stood for--will make it very tough for me to part my hard earned dollars to DU in the future.
 
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