Letter to the OWAA Board

Letter to the Board of the Outdoor Writers Association of America from Ted Williams Dear Board: NRA president Kayne Robinson is angry and confused about an article entitled Natural Allies that appeared nine years ago in Sierra. In oral and written harangues Robinson refers to “a vicious attack” on his organization and its allies by the Sierra Club. Moreover, he repeatedly cites the piece as “Sierra’s Natural Allies.” Robinson doesn’t understand how the magazine business works. It is not “Sierra’s Natural Allies.” It is “Ted Williams’ Natural Allies.” I am not the Sierra Club. I am not even a member of the Sierra Club. I work for no organization. I am a freelance writer who sells First North American Serial Rights. I landed the Sierra assignment because, as an outdoor writer, I had spent 28 years defending fish, wildlife, sportsmen, sportsmen’s rights, and the environment. One cannot work against the first two without working against the others. Robinson’s failure to comprehend this is a measure of his ignorance. Since September 1996, when the piece appeared, no other advocate of hunting or gun ownership has expressed disapproval. In fact, Natural Allies received considerable positive attention. The National Wildlife Federation, for instance, gave me its Conservation Achievement Award in Communications and flew me to Tucson to address its annual convention. “The only thing wrong with the piece,” declared the federation’s then CEO, Mark Van Putten, “is that it didn’t appear in National Wildlife.” I did not “attack” Rep. Don Young, Senator Larry Craig and other NRA allies or board members. I accurately reported that they consistently vote against the interests of fish and wildlife. What’s more, I did so only to illustrate how sportsmen are seduced by their worst enemies. Although I reported the shortcomings of the environmental community, such as its refusal to reach out to sportsmen and its stupidity in choosing irrelevant battles (such as mourning dove hunting), no environmental group complained. Instead, I received dozens of warm letters, and Nike presented me with its “Earthwrite” Award. Through many drafts my editor, Joan Hamilton, asked me to provide more about the enormous contributions that sportsmen have made to conservation. It was old news to me, but not to readers of Sierra. At Hamilton’s urging, I added long paragraphs on how sportsmen created the national wildlife refuge system, eliminated market hunting, restored elk, deer, antelope, wild turkeys, waterfowl. “To raise money for wildlife management, hunters and anglers have successfully lobbied for excise taxes on fishing tackle and ammunition,” I reported. Not once in the piece did I mention the National Rifle Association. Robinson has made the case more eloquently than I ever could that the NRA is an embarrassment to sportsmen and gun owners. I cannot fathom why certain OWAA members imagine that the NRA has something to do with conservation. For once, Robinson has it right when he declares that “One cannot hunt if there is no game.” Yet the NRA comes out on the wrong side of virtually every issue that affects game -- from the Alaska lands initiative to lead shot. Finally, I’ll grant that the First Amendment allows Robinson to make silly, nasty, paranoid statements about our supporting members in public. But it also allows OWAA’s board to voice disapproval of those statements. My first reaction was “Why bother?” After all, reprimanding the NRA for this kind of ranting is like reprimanding your dog for rolling in compost. You can do it, but it won’t get you anywhere because it’s the nature of the beast. On further reflection, however, I believe that the board was less interested in reforming the NRA than educating OWAA members. Judging from some of their letters, I’d say it has some work to do. Sincerely, Ted Williams