Putting the "Public" Back in "Public Trust"

"What about the many grassroots members?"

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Integrity is defined as soundness, wholeness, the state of being whole, undivided; from the Latin root integer, meaning whole complete. When "integrity" is used to define the quality of a person or organization, for example, or the lack thereof, we are looking at their wholeness.

Integrity is lacking in this Ducks Unlimited situation with the firing of a respected conservation writer, Don Thomas (E. Donnall Thomas) from their publication, for an article written in an entirely different publication that did not even mention Ducks Unlimited, or ducks for that matter, but rather an attack by billionaire James Cox Kennedy on our Montana Stream Access laws and a portion of our Montana Constitution, at a MT appellate Supreme Court Hearing.

PLWA's appeal case against Madison County took place here in Bozeman, at Montana State University, on April 29, 2013, which btw, ruled in favor of PLWA. It took awhile, but I found a video recording of the hearing and transcribed part of it. The case is not PLWA against Kennedy, it is against Madison County, Kennedy joined as an intervenor.

Besides Kennedy's attorney stating that Kennedy owns the air space above the river, that stream access was a "taking", he also stated, "This court said that unconstitutional actions are void and the passage of time does not render them okay, does not render them constitutional." At which point Justice Patricia Cotter asked, "You're asking us to overturn Curran & Hildreth, aren't you, and also to declare the stream access bill unconstitutional?"

Kennedy's attorney replied, "That's correct."

Cotter then asked, "Counsel, aren't you also asking us to declare a portion of the Montana Constitution unconstitutional? (Kennedy's attorney interjected "Yes") Article Nine, Section 3 provides paragraph 3 that, 'All surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric waters within the boundaries of the state are the property of the state for the use of its people and are subject to appropriation for beneficial uses as provided by law.' If your position is, we were to accept it, would reject that provision of the constitution?"

Again, Kennedy's attorney answered "yes".

This is not a small land dispute taking place, it is a portion of our Montana Constitution and our Stream Access law that Kennedy is attacking.

Grassroots Networking
After I shared Don's letter with the Newsletter, posting it online and posting it to a thread on Randy Newberg's Hunt Talk forum, Don's letter began being shared and reposted all over by forums, conservation webpages and other social media, Don's many associations also networked, resulting in DU members contacting DU about the injustice done to Don Thomas and what was at stake for conservation. These type of grassroots members are the backbone, the foundation, of most conservation organizations that exist today.

DU Response
Shortly after, DU sent the below canned reply to these grassroots members.
"E. Donnall Thomas was a freelance contributor to Ducks Unlimited magazine. He was not a DU employee. He wrote the "Closing Time" column, which appeared on the back page of every issue. Mr. Thomas had been writing this column for DU since 2001.

In the Fall 2015 issue of Outside Bozeman, Mr. Thomas wrote an article entitled: "A Rift Runs Through It; Fighting For Access to the Ruby River." The article dealt with ongoing legal challenges related to public access on a portion of Montana's Ruby River that runs through a longstanding DU volunteer leader's property in Montana. DU recognizes there are many views on this issue, but our mission is waterfowl and wetlands conservation. As a result, DU has no position on the stream access issue in Montana.

In DU's opinion, the article published by Mr. Thomas in Outside Bozeman publicly and very personally attacked a DU volunteer leader. We felt that the article demonstrated a lack of fairness in vilifying a member of the DU family without allowing that person the opportunity to provide his perspective.

As a result, DU decided to discontinue its relationship with Mr. Thomas. We would be similarly concerned if Mr. Thomas had written comparable statements about any DU volunteer leader. DU honors freedom of speech, but also honors our volunteers.

Mr. Thomas has the right to express his opinions in any way he sees fit. DU has the right to choose who contributes to its publications." - Ducks Unlimited

Larger news organizations began reporting on the situation. The Daily Kos first reported,  Ducks Unlimited Steps In It. The Associated Press interviewed Don Thomas yesterday, writing - Columnist fired after writing article critical of donor. Which was then picked up by the New York Times.

The following is Don Thomas' response to the DU canned reply, which he shared with me.

Response to DU Statement
"This is written in response to a statement from DU outlining the reasons for my termination, and a note from Matt Coffey to Matt Volz.

DU claims to take "no position on the stream access issue in Montana." When they terminated me solely as the result of an article in another magazine on a subject at arm's length from DU's mission, they most certainly took one.

DU accuses me of "vilifying a member of the DU family." What I did was report James Cox Kennedy's record of illegally blocking public access to a stream and engaging in (unsuccessful) frivolous court actions to prevent such access. If that constitutes "vilifying," it is because of the nature of Mr. Kennedy's actions and behavior.

DU's concern for their "family" begs the question of who that family is. Evidently, my own years of membership and service to the organization didn't meet the definition. And what about the many grassroots members who have expressed support for me and contempt for Kennedy's behavior?

I did not personally contact Mr. Kennedy to solicit his views because the well-documented legal record clearly establishes them. No one has challenged the accuracy of that reporting.

Mr. Coffey asserts that Mr. Kennedy did not ask DU for repercussions. Perhaps DU can explain how they found out about the article? It is hard to imagine distant DU board members subscribing to Outside Bozeman." - Don Thomas

One of the conservation hunters at Hunt Talk made an important statement, "There it is, my New Year's resolution: re-evaluate the organizations I'm donating to."  This is a point I made in one of my previous EMWH Newsletters -

"... people would start taking a closer look at who they contribute to, or do people think all they have to do is send in a yearly membership, pat themselves on the back, feel good about themselves and their responsibility for our Public Trust ends there? Organizations are no different than government (one reason I didn't file as a non-profit), you should be holding your organization accountable for what they are voting for, representing at the tables and work groups they participate in, because they are using your membership, your dollars, your numbers when they stand up there and make those votes or those statements. If you don't know what is going on, you should. If you dont like what is going on, you should let them know. Nothing is static, things are always changing. Despite written mission statements, organizations may change based on controlling members or new presidents. What once was a conservation organization could now simply be playing at conservation. The proof is in their actions, their votes, their public statements."

With that said, another Hunt Talker suggested ending support for DU, "Instead support PLWA. MT would be a far less accessible place without them." So true. For those of you that would like to support an awesome VOLUNTEER conservation organization that is in no way "too big for their britches", whose mission statement is, "... to maintain, restore, and perpetuate public access to the boundaries of all Montana public land and waters," please consider joining & contributing to Public Lands/Water Access Association, truly a grassroots conservation organization with integrity. 


Game Damage Public Comments Needed
On a quick note, since I havent been able to send out a normal newsletter, yet, the Environmental Quality Council is meeting for a conference call discuss the FWP sly amendment changes to Game Damage that a number of us requested an audience before the EQC in early September to protest - a loophole to privatization.

The public can still provide comment on the proposal by going to Room 172 of the State Capitol on Nov. 16. Written comment may also be submitted by email to hstockwell@mt.gov.

Here is the issue - Our sportsmens dollars pay for any game damage assistance that private landowners receive. Any game damage hunts require public hunter access in return. But last year, Dir. Hagener temporarily amended the democratic Hunt Roster to allow landowners to choose up to 25% of the hunters for a Game Damage hunt. As the failed Game Damage audit showed, at times 100% of the hunters were landowner chosen, violating Game Damage law. FWP then tried to pass this summer, a little known amendment that would allow landowners to choose all the hunters for a Game Damage hunt, including antlered animals. Due to many of our comments and requesting this be addressed at the EQC in Sept., FWP has now amended their amendment to limit the landowner chosen names to 25% and only of those hunts for antlerless animals. Bucks and Bulls will have to be chosen from the democratic Hunt Roster.

But there's a problem with this, a major loophole - let's say that a game damage hunt is set up, the land owner chooses the days, and with consulting, FWP decides how many animals to be removed. If the landowner gets to choose 25% and those landowner chosen 25% are the first to participate, there is nothing to prevent the landowner from saying that is all that needs to be done and ending the game damage hunt action, effectively shutting out the legally required public hunter access that our sportsmens dollars pay for. They, in essence, got their private hunt. This is a loophole for privatization.

Personally, I am against this landowner chosen percentage. But, if there is no way to avoid this, at the very least, we need to send in public comments that if the 25% is permanently added to the amendment, then those 25% should be every 4th name chosen, not the first 3, those should be our democratically chosen public hunters from the Hunt Roster. For example, the 4th, 8th, 12th hunter would be from the landowner chosen list.

Again, I personally dont believe Game Damage is broken and in need of a fix, FWP has not legally been adhering and utilizing Game Damage. They need to come into compliance, then access if there is a problem that needs addressing showing proper hard science and statistics to validate their assessment.

Please take a few moments to submit a public comment.

I would like to thank the following contributors for supporting EMWH. Your gift is very much appreciated. Jim Posewitz, Gayle Joslin, Shawn Danielson & Carl Wolf of Wolf's Gun Works

If you would like to further this work and research,   please click to contribute to EMWH.
Thank you,
Kathryn QannaYahu


Wildlife  &



513 1/2 W. Curtiss St., Bozeman, MT 59715
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