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May 30, 2007

Talk Back: Taking Issue with Ted

In the world of humane-minded advocates, there are reasons to agree and reasons to disagree. Here is one example—a few readers have expressed disappointment over the inclusion of Ted Williams in my blogroll. Julianne French writes:

Wow, what a shock to see The HSUS endorse a wild horse hater like Ted Williams. I know of him from the inaccurate article he wrote in the Audubon Society and referred to horse advocates like myself repeatedly as “the horse mafia.” He said inaccurate statements about the Arizona Heber Wild Horses and people like myself who have campaigned for their protection from the Forest Service. He even boasted about a guy who killed a mustang and butchered it where it is now in his freezer.

I have been a great supporter of The HSUS and even was identified as a key grassroots activist. I have walked the halls for Congress on behalf of The HSUS as a citizen activist and shared The HSUS Scorecard among hundreds of Arizona citizens. I have collected thousands of letters to congressionals and secured co-sponsorships of lawmakers on H.R. 249 to restore protection for the Wild Horses and H.R. 503/S. 311 to ban horse slaughter. I have raised over $1,000 for The HSUS in Party Animals. I obtained over 1,600 signatures on the Humane Farming Proposition 204 Campaign. As Mr. Williams notes, wild horse advocates are effective, but we do it through logic, compassion and reason, exactly as The HSUS asks activists to be.

I contribute every month to The HSUS and was eager to participate in your blog. But now, I am rethinking my support. How The HSUS can actually have this wild horse hater on the blog defies what I have learned about The HSUS. When I participated in the Party for Animals, The HSUS sent me a video from the Fund for Animals that spoke to the plight of America's wild horses.

Now, The HSUS appears to want it both ways. By putting Mr. William's blog link on The HSUS website, it is promulgating the opinions of Mr. Williams. I urge The HSUS to rethink this schizophrenic strategy. There are many worthy animal welfare groups that are consistent in their support of animal welfare causes. Why should I support an animal welfare group that refers to their members as "horse mafia"? What are you thinking?

Mr. Williams uses his influence in the environmental community to misleadingly believe wild horses are like cattle and destroy the environment. They buy into it because the environmental groups and now organizations like The HSUS support him. I cannot condone this endorsement and hope to see The HSUS remove him from your blog.

We also received this comment from Craig Downer:

Please remove Mr. Ted Williams from your blog, as his prejudice against the wild horses is very obvious and he should not be allowed to continue to spread his disinformation about the free living, returned native wild horses in North America using the media of an organization that purports to be for the wild horses in the wild.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Many who wrote to us about Ted Williams have been fantastic supporters of The HSUS and of animals, and many thanks go to you for your advocacy on behalf of wild horses and other creatures. You and other wild horse advocates are a force to be reckoned with, and we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in support of Congressional efforts to ban the slaughter of wild horses—in fact, to ban the slaughter of all horses for human consumption.

Julianne, you and I share a view about Ted Williams' over-the-top piece on wild horses that appeared not long ago in Audubon magazine, where Ted has been a columnist for years. Ted's piece was sensationalist, and it grossly exaggerated the impact that horses are having on arid areas in the West. He complains about the effect of 32,000 wild horses and burros on the land and wildlife, even though there are more than 4 million livestock grazing on public lands in the West. It is the livestock that are having an enormous impact on wild lands, particularly riparian areas. I am not aware of a single environmental organization that opposed our efforts in Congress to provide protections for wild horses from slaughter—and that's telling indeed.

What's more, when the Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act in 1971 in order to protect these animals from ranchers and others who worked to eradicate them with firearms and poisons, there were twice the number of wild horses and burros as there are now, and the Congress called them a "vanishing" symbol of the West at that time. It just doesn't make sense for those who dislike wild horses to say they are superabundant, when their numbers have been halved in the last 35 years.

The HSUS has been unhesitating in its effort in Congress, with Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), to restore the ban on the slaughter of wild horses—an effort that became necessary after former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns secretly slipped in a rider to allow the slaughter of some wild horses that had been rounded up and not yet adopted. We will push the Senate to follow the House's lead, so a core provision of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act in place for three decades is restored.

And recognizing that we need a long-term solution to the controversy over wild horses, we are pushing for the Bureau of Land Management to put to use an immunocontraceptive vaccine we have developed with Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick and Zoo Montana. With the highly selective application of this contraceptive vaccine in a biologically supportable manner, we hope to maintain wild horse numbers and obviate the need for inhumane round-ups and costly long-term holding of wild horses in captive settings.

While Ted Williams is wrong about wild horses, I have high regard for him, even though there has been more than one occasion that a cause of mine has been the target for some of his cutting prose. Ted is fearless, and he has important and insightful things to say about wildlife and conservation. He is a hunter, but he has not hesitated for a moment to take on canned hunts, pheasant stocking, bear baiting and other inhumane and unsporting hunting practices. Some of his best writing has focused on the Safari Club International, the group's mania for trophy hunting and its brand of extreme anti-environmentalism. He is one of the few outdoor writers to stand up and challenge the orthodoxy of the NRA, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and other hunting extremists.

Through the years, I have agreed with Ted many more times than I have disagreed with him. His prose can be devastating, and when he is taking on opponents of animal protection, it's a joy to read his work. When he is taking aim at us, his work can sting, since his talents are so evident.

But our thinking needs to be able to stand up against the attacks of our sharpest and brightest critics. Ted's criticisms will in the long run make us stronger. We need not fear the thinking of any critic of ours, but simply to answer it when it comes.

The blog would be a bore if we didn't link to some provocative and unorthodox voices. I doubt that either I or The HSUS agree with all of the thinking and rhetoric of other bloggers listed on the site. And we will be sure to add some other controversial voices down the road, as long as they are well-intentioned voices.

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