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Ducks Unlimited dumps credibility along with writer who criticized donor

Don Thomas
Don Thomas

UPDATED with reader observation that DU has purged Don Thomas from archives.

ACCESS -- Why should the average sportsman worry about a writer who lost his job?

Why should you care that a sportsmen's conservation group dismissed columnist Don Thomas because he put the spotlight on a wealthy man's mission to bar public access to a public stream?

Look around you, especially in Montana, where rich people hunting for their piece of paradise have been locking up land by the millions of acres.

Read the following explanation by Thomas, chew on it for a bit and then send DU your two cents here.

I support DU's mission to conserve wetland habitat.

I do not support DU's inclination to massage the egos of rich guys who don't see the merit in championing the rights of average sportsmen.

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, express your opinion, and take whatever further action you might consider appropriate.

Don Thomas
Lewistown, MT

UPDATE:  For the record, DU editors have denied that Cox Kennedy requested that Thomas be booted out of the DU family.  On the other hand, a reader has just sent me the following message on the latest development:

I was Googling up Don Thomas articles since I really didn't know him as a writer, and it appears that DU didn't just fire Don. They have un-personed him in the finest Orwellian tradition.

DU has removed all references to Don from its website. Every link to an article by or about him is dead. This really goes far beyond disagreement.  To edit a website to pretend that a writer with a dissenting voice was never there to begin with ... well ... DU just zeroed out their credibility.

I have requested a clarification from DU on whether this was a deliberate purge or a glitch in the way web stories are archived.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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