Audubon and Ted Williams

Audubon and Ted Williams

David Yarnold
Published: 03/26/2013

Two weeks ago, longtime Audubon magazine contributor Ted Williams published an op-ed that raised serious questions of judgment. In the course of describing the very significant conservation threat posed by feral and free-roaming cats, Ted’s op-ed described using over-the-counter medication to poison cats and called this method “humane” (it’s not – I’ve read the reports from veterinarians and other experts), and it sounded like Ted was speaking for Audubon (as he has said in his apology, he wasn’t).

Here’s Audubon speaking for Audubon: We absolutely reject the notion of individuals poisoning cats or treating cats in any inhumane way.

Given the gravity of these issues, we moved quickly to begin a review of what had happened. And while that review was taking place, we suspended Ted’s relationship with Audubon. As a result, Ted’s writing will not appear in the May-June issue of Audubon magazine, and he will not appear on its masthead.

Everyone makes mistakes in their jobs. Usually, a handful of co-workers, a classroom full of kids or some other collection of colleagues sees our missteps. Not journalists. We publish our mistakes for everyone to see.

As Ted says in his apology, he did just that.

After doing the review we promised, 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.

We accept Ted’s apology. We’ve always thought that Audubon magazine is better when Ted Williams’ work is in it. That’s been true for 33 years. So we're reinstating Ted’s INCITE column in the July-August issue.

I recognize the suspension of Ted’s column caused a fair amount of consternation among some of Audubon’s most loyal supporters. 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. (You can find the report here.)

Thanks for your passion for birds, nature and wildlife.

David Yarnold

President & CEO

National Audubon Society