“Environmental journalism is not a cheerful field of work,” Edward Abbey wrote in the introduction to his collection of essays Down the River. It’s an epigram that could describe the career of Ted Williams ’69.
Williams is an investigative conservation journalist who works to bridge the gulf between sportsmen and environmentalists. He’s best known for columns and articles in Audubon (where he’s an editor at large) and Fly Rod & Reel (where he is conservation editor). In October he published his third book, Something’s Fishy (Skyhorse Publishing, 2007), a compilation of pull-no-punches articles from those and a half-dozen other periodicals.
To paraphrase Abbey, these are not generally cheerful tales.
In the introduction Williams maintains that “staying hired is easy. What takes talent, effort and spine is getting fired—or, rather, choosing to get fired when principles are at stake.” And he speaks from experience. A top national fishing magazine hired and fired him the same day over his demand that the magazine defend him in case of a lawsuit.
The 45 essays in Something’s Fishy include vivid accounts of fishing excursions and in-depth analysis of major land conservation initiatives and ecological controversies (ethanol policy e.g.). Some essays advocate killing prized trout species with rotenone.
He describes the same species, brook trout, as the most beautiful creatures in Massachusetts and the ugliest creatures in Moraine Lake, Alberta. They’re native to New England but were introduced in Alberta. In “Fish-Poison Politics,” and several other pieces in the book, he suggests even brook trout should be poisoned trout if they’re invasive and if it will preserve native species.
“Ted’s tone is harsh on occasion,” writes Fly Rod & Reel editor Paul Guernsey. “But the threats are growing and our living natural resources are in great peril. Someone needs to speak up and lead the way, and that someone is Ted Williams.” — Stephen Collins ’74