Audubon feral cat fight has claws in Pennsylvania

Posted on March 21, 2013

Jeff MulhollemThe Northeastern Pennsylvania Audubon Chapter was perhaps the first to step up and chastise National Audubon for firing Ted Williams, a highly respected freelance writer and long-time columnist for Audubon Magazine in response to an op-ed piece he recently wrote for the Orlando Sentinel, entitled, "Trap, neuter, return programs make feral-cat problem worse."

His central point in the article was the ineffectiveness of trap-neuter-return programs and the devastating effects of feral cats on bird populations.

Feral cat activists started a petition calling for Audubon to break ties with Williams. National Audubon responded with a strongly worded statement written by president David Yarnold, posted both on the organization's Facebook page and on its website, which effectively fired Williams.

"Ted Williams is a freelance writer who published a personal opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel. In the course of the original piece, which has since been edited by the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Williams described using over-the-counter drugs to poison cats," part of the National Audubon statement said.

"And because of Mr. Williams' stated affiliation with Audubon in that original piece, some readers assumed that Audubon was endorsing this approach. We do not. We regret any misimpression that Mr. Williams was speaking for us in any way: He wasn't.

"Audubon magazine today suspended his work and will remove him as 'Editor at Large' from the masthead pending further review."

Read Rob Drieslein's, our managing editor, response to the Audubon's decision. 

Northeast PA Audubon's president, Chris Fischer, responded to Yarnold's statement, expressing extreme disappointment with National Audubon's "short-sighted" response to the article published in the Orlando Sentinel by Williams.

"National Audubon's response on Facebook and on audubon.org starts off with a statement rejecting the idea of 'people taking matters into their own hands' and ends with a statement that "backyard poisoning isn't the answer," Fischer wrote. "Neither of these statements are advocated in Ted's article. When writing about alternatives to TNR, it is clear from the context that Ted is referring to options available to authorized agencies ("state and federal wildlife managers').

"He also argues that action needs to be extended to the 'municipal' level - the last I checked, 'municipal' refers to local government. Why are you apologizing for things Ted didn't say? For those who don't bother to look up and read the original article (which include many, judging from the comments I've read online), you are misleading people to believe that Ted's article actually did advocate 'people taking matters into their own hands' and 'backyard poisoning.'

In the response to National Audubon, Fischer noted that William's articles in Audubon Magazine are well-researched, well-reasoned, and written with a strong voice. She contended that Audubon  needs more of that kind of writing, not less.
"Unfortunately a newspaper opinion column doesn't allow for the same in-depth treatment as does Audubon Magazine," she wrote. "But at least it's bringing this important issue to public attention. But instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to engage in real debate and discussion, National Audubon has responded by going on the defensive and throwing Ted Williams under the bus.

"The way you've attempted to distance yourself from Ted Williams is disgraceful (especially given that the Sentinel article nowhere states that Ted was speaking on behalf of Audubon). We find this unprincipled and lacking in integrity - and quite frankly, we expect better from you.

"Feral cats are a real problem, killing billions of birds in the United States annually. While an emotional issue for many, an informed public discussion of the issue and alternatives involved is essential if progress is to be made. There is still time to turn this around. We strongly encourage you to do the right thing."

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