Audubon Shows Their True Colors

Had David Yarnold waited just a few more days, the announcement might have been taken as an April Fools joke: Ted Williams is back.

“After doing the review we promised,” explained Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, in a blog post Tuesday, “which included extensive fact-checking and a look at Ted’s work for other publications, we’re satisfied that there’s no larger pattern of missteps that would warrant further disciplinary action.”

Just a week-and-a-half ago Audubon “suspended its contract” with Williams amidst a firestorm of complaints about an Orlando Sentinel op-ed in which he suggested that acetaminophen poisoning was one of “two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR.”

No pattern of missteps?

Well, I suppose we can argue over what constitutes a pattern, but it’s clear that the Sentinel op-ed wasn’t the first time Williams promoted the use of acetaminophen. Responding to comments (now removed) from a September 2011 blog post* for Fly Rod & Reel Online, Williams describes the “task of euthanizing feral cats” as neither “difficult” nor “joyless.”

“So far the cat mafia has prevented [acetaminophen] from being approved for use; but this will change. Only an ecological illiterate would claim that saving native ecosystems by reducing invasive exotics is ‘joyless.’”

Yes, this is the Ted Williams whose name will once again appear on the masthead of Audubon magazine in the July/August issue following his “review.” Forgive and forget, etc. After all, the guy did apologize, right?

What Yarnold and others consider an apology is nothing of the sort. It’s actually one of those cowardly versions of an apology we see all too often from politicians looking only to salvage a career—all explanation and little or no remorse.

The most illuminating part of this whole incident is not, however, Williams’ mention of acetaminophen. As he now admits, he exercised poor judgment in doing so. It’s the fact that Williams and his supporters—along with the Sentinel editor responsible for publishing the op-ed in the first place—didn’t anticipate the backlash suggests a far greater lapse in judgment.

What world are these people living in?

Yes, Let’s Be Clear, David

“I recognize the suspension of Ted’s column caused a fair amount of consternation among some of Audubon’s most loyal supporters,” writes Yarnold. “Understandably, some of that concern came from admiration for Ted. Some stemmed from confusion or concerns over Audubon’s policy on cats, despite our clear and consistent statements about the threats cats pose to birds and other wildlife.”

“So let’s be clear: Audubon’s long-standing view, strongly supported by the best available science and laid out in a resolution by our board of directors, is that cats—particularly feral cats—are a leading cause of bird deaths. Audubon strongly believes that cats belong indoors. That’s safer for them and for birds. We urge communities around the country to adopt effective measures to counter problems suffered and caused by cats and to vigorously enforce existing rules and procedures.

“Our long-standing policy took on even greater currency with recent reports by Smithsonian scientists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others that find cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year, underscoring the need for effective solutions to protect wild birds and cats alike.”

And there we have it—the justification for Williams’ op-ed and for Audubon’s change of heart: the alleged impact of cats on birds. Best available science? Calling the Smithsonian/USFWS paper “science” at all is a hell of a stretch; science fiction is more like it—paid for by the American taxpayers.

Such endorsements tell us plenty about Yarnold and Audubon. As does the way they continue to hide behind the usual euphemisms. Protect cats? Sure. As the organization’s website explains, “visiting cats” should be trapped “so that they may be transported safely to the local animal shelter.” The fact that this is very likely a death sentence?

Yarnold and Audubon aren’t so clear about that.

•     •     •

It was odd hearing of the Audubon/Williams reunion on the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments “in a challenge to California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.” Today, the Court will hear arguments for and against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

What we are witnessing is an enormous cultural shift. And, just as the culture of ignorance, bigotry, and hate is in decline, so too is the culture of killing.

Seen in this light, it’s no surprise that Williams would promote** the poisoning of cats. Or that Audubon would take Williams back. Or that they’re trying once again to pedal their “best available science.” All of it reeks of a kind of desperation—evidence of a worldview that is out of touch and increasingly irrelevant in twenty-first-century America.

* This was nothing but a cut/paste job of an American Bird Conservancy press release, though Williams never acknowledges this. (Interestingly, his blog for Fly Rod & Reel Online has the ironic tagline: “Ted Williams speaks the truth.”)

** Yes: promote. In his apology, Williams claims that he didn’t intend for his “reference to that painkiller” to be interpreted as “a recommendation that the public take action into its own hands.” I’m not buying it. As I explained previously, he could easily have made his argument (if that’s what is was) without any such reference.


In the News