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Posted by on in On the Road Blog
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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.a1sx2_Original1_4Jerry010916b_20160114-194908_1.jpg

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.

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Jerry Kustich has been a part of the "Boo Boy" team for the past twenty years learning the many intricacies of rod building. Always found on a stream testing anything from flies to waders to pentagonal bamboo designs, he has become an outspoken advocate for public access to Montana's rivers. Author, writer, devoted environmentalist, rod designer, and dedicated angler, he spends much time on the road as a fly fishing ambassador lecturing on and representing the ideals for which all serious fly anglers stand.


  • Guest
    Steve Summers Friday, 15 January 2016

    Same thing is happening in Utah. We have won a battle for legal stream access, but the battle will always continue. The theft of OUR public lands is ongoing

  • Guest
    Michael Stack Friday, 29 January 2016

    It's really a travesty to see how money and greed power the affluent to manipulate and change laws to serve themselves. The saga about stream access on The Ruby and Montana is long from over unfortunately but making people aware is a good thing. Great post Jerry!

  • Guest
    Sandy Pittendrigh Friday, 29 January 2016

    Several decades ago, soon after the Stream Access Law was first passed, my friend Patrick and I entered the Ruby River by climbing down the concrete abutment at the Alder Bridge on the Ruby. A few hours later we were arrested by an Ennis Montana deputy sheriff who showed us a signed letter written by one of Cox Kennedy's employees, claiming we had jumped a fence and walked across a field to access the river. This letter claimed to have photographic proof. Charges were eventually dropped because the photographs never materialized. Finally, when I got back to my truck that day, all four tires had been deflated. Was quite a story. Does that story say something about Mr Kennedy? And his employees?

  • Guest
    Justin Hartman Friday, 29 January 2016

    Thanks for the article Jerry. Well said. Couldn't agree more.

  • Guest
    troy dettman Friday, 29 January 2016

    Thanks Jerry...good words ! I was at the wrong end of a gun when I legally accessed the Red rock via hwy 15 and headed up stream. I believe thats part of Ted Turners ranch?

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Monday, 01 February 2016

    Troy That would have been Turner's property and it is harassment and illegal for a landowner to threaten a sportsman who is legally in the water. The problem is can anyone really trust anyone with a gun point in your direction? That's what they are counting on. If it happens again please report the incident to Fish and Game

  • Guest
    Gregg Messel Friday, 29 January 2016

    That is why I only support Montana Council of TU and DU....

  • Guest
    Bill Smith Saturday, 30 January 2016

    I wish to say thanks Jerry and certainly Don for doing their Job as an OUTDOOR WRITER.This isnt or hasnt been the only case in question. Jerry or Don feel free to call me or e mail me your numbers, If you think the above is bad, boy can I turn you folks lose on another. I tell you what it in details. NAWMP & NAWCA, Conservation Easements on the private landscape, Federal Duck stamp Increase etc and PPJV partners. Oh yes when you have key individuals sitting in Key Committee seats, Lobbyist in DC etc you get what you want at the expense of the public IE membership.

    Bill Smith

  • Guest
    David Decker Saturday, 30 January 2016

    Great voice given to this topic. It will never end. Keep up the meaningful comments.

  • Guest
    Phillip Periman Saturday, 30 January 2016

    Where and to whom do we write to protest DU's treatment of Don Thomas?

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Monday, 01 February 2016

    Hi Phillip The address I have: Mr. Dale Hall
    Chief Executive Officer
    Ducks Unlimited
    One Waterfowl Way
    Memphis, TN 38120
    Thanks, Phillip, for speaking out. This is too important for the future of access in Montana and throughout the country. Montana has been the beacon of the way things should be…we can't afford to go backwards.

  • Guest
    Paul Roeder Tuesday, 02 February 2016

    Thanks for posting the article Jerry, very interesting read for me. I agree..

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Wednesday, 03 February 2016

    Thanks Paul. Good hearing from you!

  • Guest
    Fred Balling Thursday, 04 February 2016

    FWIW I have not renewed my DU membership because I refuse to support such
    shenanigans. Quackery.

  • Guest
    Dell Despain Thursday, 04 February 2016

    Thanks for posting this Jerry, I'm convinced we have to fight for our stream access rights every year from now. I'll be contacting DU w/ my thoughts.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Thursday, 04 February 2016

    Unfortunately, Dell, you are probably right. Although it should no longer be an issue, we can no longer take public access for granted. Speaking out to DU is a start. Thanks.

  • Guest
    Dell Despain Friday, 05 February 2016

    I agree Jerry,"unfortunately" indeed. Over the years I've watched the stream access laws get challenged,here in Montana, and we'll win those challenges and I relax and think, well I'm glad that's over and not a worry anymore. But then the next year, and year after that the right to stream access gets challenged again and again. We have to stay diligent from now on. I've followed Utah's stream access laws and watched them open stream access to the public only to lose it the following year. Here in Montana we've got to keep fighting the good fight. Thanks again for posting you're article, keep it up Jerry.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Monday, 15 February 2016

    Amazing, isn't it? Kennedy can't seem to be able to put the issue behind him and just become a good neighbor.

  • Guest
    Steven Maertens Thursday, 07 April 2016

    Hello Jerry
    Thanks for relaying the information re: Don Thomas and Du's outrageous reponse to his reporting. I have been a longtime supporter of DU; Do I continue to support wetlands conservation and at the same time seemingly support DU's institutional corruption, and the illegal, selfish greed and avarice of Mr. Kennedy? I guess not. This dishonest, anti-democratic, anti-free speech stand that that the DU board and magazine have taken saddens and dissapoints me, and I'll let THe people at DU know.

  • Guest
    Jerry Kustich Thursday, 07 April 2016

    Thanks for the comment Steven. The public needs to be constantly aware of the forces lurking in the shadows waiting to diminish all that is important to us. I have tried to contact DU with little success…even making the organization's position more distressing.

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