Recently, Ducks Unlimited magazine dismissed noted Montana outdoor writer Don Thomas from his long-time contributing editor position. It seems that Thomas wrote an article for another publication criticizing billionaire Montana landowner (and Ducks Unlimited member) James Cox Kennedy for his overt attempt to undermine Montana’s stream access law particularly as it pertains to the portion of the Ruby River flowing through his property in Twin Bridges. This challenge has been settled several times on behalf of the public in Montana’s courts, and Mr. Kennedy’s position is a matter of public record. However, Thomas was let go by DU because, as stated by DU editorial director Matt Young, “we simply cannot condone this type of vitriol directed by one of our contributing editors toward a dedicated DU volunteer, who is among the nation’s most ardent and active waterfowl conservationists.” Apparently, when it comes to criticism, certain people, as deemed by Ducks Unlimited, are off-limits. One can only assume that this has to do with James Kennedy’s wealth.
No one can deny the good work Ducks Unlimited does for waterfowl habitat throughout the country, but on another level the organization would be well advised to do a bit of collective soul searching. Although its membership is made up of average individuals who depend upon public access opportunities for hunting, one of DU’s “most ardent conservationists” is a big-time anti-access proponent that has caused years of on-going consternation among the residents of Montana. To this point Ducks Unlimited could learn a lesson from Trout Unlimited.
When National Trout Unlimited advised its Montana membership to back off active opposition to the stream access court challenge by Mr. Kennedy a few years ago, there was a vigorous protest throughout the state and around the country among its grassroots members. Many suspected that the national edict came from the organization’s wealthy backers. TU’s national board of directors eventually relented when it got message – loud and clear - of how important the access issue was to the general TU membership. In the same spirit I would urge Ducks Unlimited supporters to protest the silencing of this veteran DU writer for speaking out in support of their public access.
Make no mistake, Montana’s Constitution clearly establishes that the state’s fish and wildlife belong to the people. Also, the state has helped define legal points of entry where the people can gain access their resource. The bone of contention is that Mr. Kennedy and his ilk have embarked upon a concerted effort to take away these legal points of entry for no other reason than to enhance their own private interests. But whenever these challenges to the people’s Constitutional rights do occur, there is a moral imperative that individuals, recreationists, Chambers of Commerce, and groups like Trout Unlimited, Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, etc. raise a strong voice of protest. And speaking out freely about what is right should be done without fear of repercussion.
Until something changes, Mr. Kennedy will continue to be criticized for his unpopular position on public access. He should expect no less from passionate sportsmen and concerned citizens. It is said that 90% of the nation’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population, but that should not give the 1% the power to assault the public’s rights without any expectation of accountability. And if an outdoor writer cannot write about all issues that affect the outdoor experience, including access, then what’s the point of any outdoor publication? In this matter Ducks Unlimited has shamefully sold out its credibility. The fact that Don Thomas was censured by the apparent influence of big money is the kind of silence none of us can afford.