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Statement Regarding E. Donnall Thomas and Ducks Unlimited

The Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) regrets the situation between E. Donnall “Don” Thomas and Ducks Unlimited (DU), two prominent voices in conservation. Don Thomas has been a member of OWAA for over 20 years, and DU has been an OWAA Supporter for 32 years.

OWAA cares deeply about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects our freedom of speech. It allows writers such as Thomas to express their opinions as he did in his article, “A Rift Runs through It” (Outside Bozeman, Fall 2015). It also allows organizations such as Ducks Unlimited to choose the voices it uses to disseminate its messages. It is unfortunate when the confluence of these interests harms either a writer or an organization in an unexpected way, particularly over an issue such as public access, which most people who participate in outdoor recreational activities highly value.

Founded in 1927, OWAA is the oldest and largest organization of professional writers, photographers, TV and radio broadcasters, bloggers, artists and other providers of outdoor content to both traditional and Internet-based media. Its 700 members include many of the most well-known and well-respected outdoor communicators in the United States. Its 200 supporters include non-profit organizations, trade associations, businesses and government agencies with an interest in outdoor recreation and conservation. Its mission is to improve the professional skills and opportunities of its members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and mentor the next generation of outdoor communicators.

OWAA plans to use the Thomas-DU disagreement as a platform to educate freelance journalists and media outlets who use their content about the nature of freelancing, including the risks and obligations freelancers and publications have toward each other. In phone conversations with OWAA President Lisa Densmore Ballard, Don Thomas and Ducks Unlimited’s CEO Dale Hall both expressed support for this initiative.


Background Information

For those of you are not familiar with the Don Thomas-Ducks Unlimited (DU) situation, here’s a recap:

In early November, the regional magazine, Outside Bozeman, published an article by Don Thomas, “A Rift Runs Through It: Fighting for access to the Ruby River” (link).

In response to this article, DU terminated Thomas’ relationship with their magazine.

Thomas distributed his response, “Ducks, Politics and Money,” to a number of colleagues (link).

The situation was picked up by various media outlets and on social media sites including the New York Times via an AP story, “Columnist Fired after Writing Article Critical of Donor”.

In response to the situation, DU issued a statement (link).

Then Thomas issued a follow-up statement (link).


Lisa Densmore Ballard, President: 406-690-0190,
Tom Sadler, Executive Director: 202-957-4748,

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