Last updated 2/24/05
“Guns & Greens,” Ted Williams's Incite column in the January-February 2005 issue, struck a chord with many of our readers. Here are some of the many letters we received about this article.
Ted Williams responds:
As the only person who is part of both the environmental leaders "green group" and the sportsmen leaders "conservation partners," I welcomed Guns & Greens. After 25 years of working closely with both communities, I see tremendous common ground on many vital issues. Unfortunately, language, culture, and an exaggerated sense of their own self-righteousness needlessly separates the two groups. Only by coming together with a measure of humility and as good listeners will we take advantage of the opportunity Williams describes to "be invincible" in our efforts to protect nature and the habitat all species depend on.
Paul W. Hansen
Ted Williams responds:
Thank you, Ted Williams, for your eloquent discussion of the issues, concerns, and obvious benefits of uniting for the larger common good, despite our smaller differences. Even if you only touched a small portion of people, it is worth it. Bravo!
“Guns and Greens” hit the nail on the head. As hunters and fishermen, we need to stop listening to the “they're after yer guns, boys” crowd at the NRA and some of the other organizations whose mission, I am convinced, is to line their pockets with sportsmen's money rather than “protecting your hunting rights.” Hunting, by the way, is a privilege, not a right. We pay for that privilege in a number of ways, starting with a hunting license, and through memberships in groups like Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. I'd be interested to know how many acres of wetlands PETA has restored or created; I know they're fond of billboards. Let's get together with the greens, iron out our differences, see each other for what we are, and get some work done.
“Guns & Greens” was right on. For years I have thought that if sportsmen and environmentalists worked together, we would be invincible. That we have seldom done so is a genuine tragedy, in the classic sense that an unnecessary environmental disaster is arising from flaws in the protagonists in this drama. I have only fished a little, and I happen not to hunt. However, I have never stopped my rambles in the woods during hunting seasons, which are vastly less dangerous than many people think. I have met many hunters in the course of my walks, and they have always been courteous and friendly, although I am sure I have often disrupted their hunts. Certainly there are exceptions, but it has become apparent to me that the vast majority of hunters love the outdoors as much as I do. As Williams urges, we should look for common ground, and make use of it when we find it.
Thanks, Audubon ; attaboy, Ted. Glad that Audubon has people with the common sense to see the truth and the courage to tell it like it is. Reminds me of another Ted Williams.
“Guns & Greens” should be a wakeup call to all hunting, fishing, and environmental organizations worldwide. As a former vice-president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and president of the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicator's Association, I have witnessed firsthand the venomous comments from both ends of the hunting and environmental spectrum.
Here in Wisconsin, we have had tentative alliances between "consumptive" and "nonconsumptive" groups when it comes to land acquisition, reclamation, or protection in our state and county forests. However, it takes only one issue, such as the new mourning dove season, to polarize these groups once again. During the three-year debate and subsequent lawsuits, any group or individual opposed to the dove season was labeled "anti-hunting" by proponents of the hunt—including our own Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers and state outdoor writers. That kind of stupid rhetoric hurt everyone who was a longtime supporter of hunting but did not agree with the dove season, and once again built up distrust between sportsmen and the nonhunting public. "Guns & Greens" should be required reading for every member of every hunting, fishing, trapping, conservation, and environmental organization on the planet.
Thanks to Ted Williams for "Guns and Greens." When talking with fellow elk hunters, they are often surprised I'm an environmentalist. Likewise, when talking with fellow environmentalists, they are often surprised that I own guns and hunt. There are actually many hunter-environmentalists out there, probably including many hunters who do not realize they have a lot in common with groups like Audubon.
We should do our best to reach out to these hunters. One way is more articles in environmental publication, and in the hunting press, whenever possible. Consider joining one of new groups that are forming out there on these issues, such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ( www.backcountryhunters.org ). If ethical hunters and environmentalists would speak more often with one voice, the gains to be made could be huge. For instance, who better than hunters, whose primary directive is the "clean shot" to avoid the suffering of animals they kill, to argue for the humane treatment of livestock in ever-burgeoning factory "farms," and for eliminating the fouling of our waterways from that same industry? The two groups will not always agree, but when we can, we should make the effort to work together. We will be heard with much more understanding by decision makers when we do.
As a founder of the Wild River Audubon chapter back in 1975 and as an avid hunter/angler and educator at the oldest private nonprofit nature center in Minnesota, I could not agree more wholeheartedly with Ted Williams's excellent “Guns and Greens.” I am pleased that Audubon "gets it" that unlikely allies could be an unbelievable force for healthy natural communities.
One of my greatest frustrations as an environmental educator is the failure of consumptive (hunters/anglers/gatherers) and non-consumptive (birders, nature photographers, outdoor recreationists, etc.) users to connect the dots and realize that they are ultimately more alike than different. I grow excited thinking of the potential energy and voting power if these different groups could simply agree on the need for healthy natural systems.
While each of us has our own pet interests or pursuits, it is not likely that any of them can thrive without the natural systems all life depends on. I challenge all readers, single species interest groups, birders, tree huggers, anglers, and hunters to find a common interest and work together. Can't find a common point of overlap? Hmmm take a deep breath of air, sip a tall glass of cold water, and think about it.
I found Ted Williams's "Guns & Greens" to be one of the most important and refreshing calls for unity among sportsmen and environmentalist ever. The article's quote from Rich Landers of the The [Spokane] Spokesman-Review—“Now, more than ever, a sportsman who is not an environmentalist is a fool"—almost says it all. The many hunting groups, such as Ducks Unlimited, that understand the direct connection between habitat protection and the health of their quarry—and therefore their sport—demonstrate one of the oldest forms of common sense known to humankind. I applaud their foresight and efforts to show that a proper hunter is also a dedicated environmentalist.
Patrick C. Murphy
I just read the "Guns & Greens" article by Ted Williams. I know I am only one small voice, but would you pass on that not all “ardent hunting types” are anti-Audubon (enviro)—even those of us who happen to belong to the NRA.
Ted Williams's “Guns & Greens” needed to be written, especially with his lucid pen. But extensive cooperation between greens and sporting organizations will be a long time coming. The present schism between these groups runs deep, driven by years of green political initiative. Through their individual activities, most green organizations have willy-nilly identified themselves with anti-hunting positions, anti-gun versus gun rights, urban versus rural interests, top-down versus bottom-up actions, and yes, blue versus red America. Anyone who believes such issues are not interrelated need only consider recent political outcomes in Canada, Great Britain and Australia, where gun possessions rights, hunter's freedoms and associated rural cultures have been methodically trampled upon and legally curtailed. Hence the uncompromising stance of much of the American hunting public.
I disagree with Williams on one important point, when he writes: “It's okay to detest blood sports, it's even okay to detest people who engage in blood sports” as long as you leave personal values out of conservation issues (my paraphrasing). It is not okay to detest blood sports or the people who practice them, just as it is not okay to detest people with the opposite view. Only tolerance and respect practiced one on one at the grassroots level will break this impasse.
Rainer H. Brocke
I was delighted to read Ted Williams's article suggesting outdoor enthusiasts of different philosophies join together to promote the common good. I must be the exception that straddles the protector/consumer fence, subscribing to both Sierra and Audubon, as well as to various traditional hunting and fishing periodicals. I make no apologies to the “antis” for my enjoyment of harvesting wildlife for consumption, and detest the NRA's assumption that such activity automatically associates me with them.
As I see it, we have no greater common enemy than shortsighted greed and those who see only dollar signs through destructive or manipulative abuse of nature. It really won't much matter how we chose to enjoy the wild places once they've been converted into strip malls. Those of us who lace up our boots and trek the untamed world, armed with rifle or pole, binoculars or clipboard, must band together against those who would, in the name of progress, exterminate us. We need to join forces to confront our nemesis, who wears expensive suits with a pewter bulldozer pin in the label.
Michael J. Baumann
I am a great admirer of Ted Williams's writing, and I couldn't agree more with the fundamental thrust of “Guns & Greens”: If sportsmen and environmentalists joined forces, they would indeed be an unstoppable force for good. I also agree with his assessment that much of the distrust sportsmen have for environmental organizations is the result of hysterical focus by some hook-and-bullet writers who have taken one narrow issue and then extrapolated widespread evil intent on the part of this environmental organization or that.
However, Williams makes implications about the NRA that deserve a closer look. The first is that the NRA uses fear as a fund-raising tactic. Absolutely correct, but I suspect they learned the technique from environmental groups. Trumpeting an urgent crisis that can only be resolved by an instant contribution of money is a technique that virtually every environmental organization has used and continues to use to great effect. A few years ago, one infamous “environmental” organization admitted to manufacturing an artificial crisis specifically for fundraising purposes. Fear generates money. But the NRA uses fear of anti-gun organizations and certain politicians, not fear of environmental groups.
The second implication concerns turf guarding, something that is also not limited to the NRA. Virtually all sporting and environmental organizations jealously guard their turf because that is how they guard their bank accounts. The NRA is reaching out to sportsmen using the irrefutable logic that quail hunting without a shotgun is tricky. I am unaware of any attempt by the NRA to co-opt credit for environmental work.
Finally, the term "bottom-feeder" carries more scorn than I think the NRA deserves. Is it a single-minded organization? You betcha; it has one mandate and only one (though it also conducts many related pro bono activities, such as teaching marksmanship to law-enforcement personnel, for which it rarely gets credit. Is the NRA sometimes strident? Yeah, but in today's 30-second-sound-bite world, that's about the only way you get heard. Does it sometimes make mistakes? Name an organization that doesn't. And then name another national organization devoted to protecting the right of all of us—Mr. Williams included—to own firearms. Demonizing the NRA is just as divisive as the hook-and-bullet writers' demonizing environmentalists.
Ted Williams responds:
Ted Williams's predictable blanket statement that “the NRA has nothing to do with conservation” takes the same approach that some hunters take when they say that Auduboners and Sierra Clubbers are tree huggers and anti-hunters. This statement is rooted in emotions and not logic. You see, I've hunted in New Jersey with my father since I was 6 years old (I'm 49 now). Without the NRA, there would be no hunters in New Jersey because the shotgun would have been outlawed. Without hunters you would have no Pittman-Robertson funds or Dingel-Johnson funds. Without hunters, New Jersey would have no Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is funded entirely by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. Our Division of Fish and Wildlife works with several other organizations that are significant players in conservation, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited. These organizations are funded by hunters. To think conservation can exist without hunters is just plain stupid! To think that hunters can exist without the NRA is equally stupid!
William D. Bruner
Ted Williams responds:
I'm working with the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club in its campaign to prohibit the use of leg-hold and lethal traps on public land in New Mexico. I had to respond to what Ted Williams called an unwise battle. He claims that trapping is primarily a humane and "animal rights" issue, and I strongly disagree. Trapping is extraordinarily indiscriminate. When people are out hiking, as many Sierra Club members often are, their companion dog is likely to be caught in a trap set for something else. We have many firsthand accounts of what this is like, including people being unable to remove the trap, incurring vet bills and even an emergency room visit for dog bites sustained by the human trying to get the trap off the dog. Traps are an infringement on unsuspecting people to enjoy the places they have every right to be.
Nor is it uncommon for a trap to catch an unintended or protected animal. When the trap is a lethal one like a conibear or snare, there is no letting go the victim. It is a senseless death and not unlike hunters shooting blindly into the brush or darkness; tactics most hunters surely find appalling. Additionally, most trapping is not done to remove "nuisance" animals; it is done for the money the pelts bring. This market-driven exploitation never comes out well for the animals involved and is the reason it is illegal to sell the meat from hunted animals across the country. It is also the reason fur-bearing animals like otters and lynx have been extirpated from large areas where they previously thrived and are now having to be reintroduced.
Unlike hunting, which has bag limits and fairly narrow seasons, there is no limit in most states to the number of traps that can be set out or the number of animals that can be killed with them. The seasons go on for months. To call this wildlife management is laughable. It's easy to say trapping doesn't harm furbearer populations if no data is ever gathered to disprove it. The term trappers use is "trapped out" for when they have to move on because there's nothing left to catch.
Finally, while individual hunters have helped us, I have been disappointed in the hunting organizations. That was our first place to go looking for allies, especially ones who commonly use dogs in the hunt. But none have stepped up. Even though some specifically cite trapping as not being fair chase because the animal is captured usually at night when animals are most vulnerable while the human is not even present and then killed while it is restrained. Others want trapping because they think it will reduce predator populations and make for more of the species they want to hunt. Sadly anti-predator sentiment is alive and well in the hunting community. But we would still welcome any hunter or hunting organization that would like to join us. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Katherine Ray
©2005 National Audubon Society
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