Thursday, February 24, 2011

Former National Audubon Society President Russell Peterson Dies


Good riddance Dr. Russell Peterson!

I met Russell Peterson in September 1981 when the National Audubon Society held their quarterly board of directors meeting in Jamestown North Dakota where I was stationed at the time. I was head over heels crazy about the National Audubon Society in those days believing, mistakenly, that Audubon was a real advocate for the earth.

In those days my fledgling family had gotten seriously into recycling aluminum cans. For recreation my then-wife and I would take our daughters (4 and 1 years old) out on day long aluminum can pick up jaunts. We regularly received permission from the North Dakota State Patrol and the Stutsman County Sheriff's Department to park along the verge of Interstate-94 where we would make forays to pick up aluminum. It got to where Jennifer, my oldest, could smell aluminum cans. We maintained a large bin of recyclable aluminium in our garage and regularly made runs to the fledgling recycling business in Jamestown where we were paid $0.25 a pound for aluminum cans. We were taking in hundreds of dollars from this effort.

Jennifer, my oldest rebel with a cause, decided that we should give our recycling money to the National Audubon Society because they were protecting the earth. Especially they were dead set against a huge wasteful water project called the "Garrison Diversion Project" that would have destroyed or harmed 17 National Wildlife Refuges in North Dakota and torn up uncountable acres of native prairie and prairie wetlands to irrigate 0.6 percent of the agricultural land in North Dakota. And all of this at the bargain basement (at the time) price of $2.3 BILLION dollars.

Audubon was against this project and had a Regional Vice-President (and friend of mine) Richard Madsen stationed in Jamestown to kill Garrison. Jennifer thought this was a great way to invest our recycling money so she determined that we would give all our recycling money to Audubon.

At the same time, Jennifer had coined the name "The Icky Man" for then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt, a Reagan appointee famous for many things including standing in the desert outside of Tucson Arizona and proclaiming that "desert is wasteland with no practical value." He was also a strong proponent of Garrison Diversion. Jennifer had developed a visceral dislike for Watt at 4 years old because Watt wanted to destroy, as a part of building the Garrison Diversion Project, a portion of a nearby Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge where there was an abundance of white-tailed deer and sharp-tailed grouse, both of which she loved to watch.

Over a campfire at the National Audubon Society preserve near Spiritwood Lake one night during the Board of Directors meeting Jennifer handed Russell Peterson a check for our most recent recycling effort and told the President of the National Audubon Society, "I want you to stop the Icky Man, Mr. Peterson." As the filthy rich members of the National Audubon Society's board of directors all cheered and applauded, Russell Peterson told my four year old daughter that he would.

The next night the National Audubon Society's Board of Directors held a banquet dinner at the Holiday Inn in downtown Jamestown. My former wife Ruth and I were invited to attend and we brought Jennifer with us. We had the distinct honor of being seated with Durward L. Allen of Purdue University, one of the most prominent professors of wildlife biology in America at the time. Ruth, myself, Durward and his wife put away 2 bottles of Bailey's Irish Creme that night as we listened to the various speeches. Jennifer drank milk. Durward paid.

One of the most rousing speeches of the night was given by Russell W. Peterson, the President of the National Audubon Society. In his speech Peterson reiterated his strong disgust with Garrison Diversion. He lauded Regional Vice-President Richard Madsen for his stalwart defense of Audubon policy and his tireless advocacy in North Dakota and in Washington DC to kill this despicable water project. Russell even mentioned the various death threats that Richard had received in his almost-successful (at that time) efforts to kill Garrison Diversion. Peterson ended his rousing speech telling everyone in attendance, including my daughter Jennifer that "the National Audubon Society will never waver in its commitment to kill Garrison Diversion."

This was in September 1981. In mid-January 1982 Russell Peterson fired Richard Madsen because Rich took a stand contrary to Audubon Board member Wally Dayton (of Dayton Department store fame in Minneapolis) over mourning dove hunting. Fired him. They fired the single greatest impediment the Congress had to the construction of Garrison Diversion; the man who almost killed the Garrison Diversion project by himself. Doing so made Peterson a bald-faced liar because just four months earlier he told all of us that Audubon would not waiver in its assault on the project.

Russell Peterson lied to the Board of Directors of the National Audubon Society and to the members of the Jamestown Audubon Chapter, and to myself and my then-wife. More importantly, Peterson lied to my four year old daughter who had spent countless hours picking up aluminum cans to recycle so she could donate the money to Russell Peterson to stop things like Garrison Diversion.

I was more than upset.

To make matters worse, a year later, when the Garrison Diversion project was on its death bed in Congress, about to become the first water project in history to be de-authorized by Congress, the National Audubon Society, led by President Russell Peterson SAVED GARRISON DIVERSION from the chopping block. Saved it. The same project that 18 months earlier he said he would do everything in his power to defeat.

My disgust level for the National Audubon Society rose to astronomic levels.

In 1988, while stationed along the incomparable Platte River in Nebraska, Peterson's successor, one Peter A.A. Berle stood before the assembled masses at the Aubudon Society's annual "River Conference" in Kearney, Nebraska, and waxed poetic about Audubon's commitment to saving the Platte River. Berle then went on to provide a laundry list of all the wonderful things the Audubon Society was doing to protect the Platte River.

There was only one problem.

EVERYTHING on Peter A.A. Berle's laundry list of wonderful things the Audubon Society was doing to protect the Platte River was being done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Platte River Whooping Crane Critical Habitat Maintenance Trust, and by a bunch of grade school kids in Grand Island Nebraska. Audubon was doing NOTHING but taking credit for what everyone else was doing. Berle's remarks that day rang as hollow as Russell Peterson's lie to my daughter in North Dakota seven years earlier.

Today while eating lunch at the British Pub I was completing my daily ritual of talking baseball with Mike Benoit and reading the New York Times. For some unexplained reason I found myself reading the obituaries as I thumbed through the other news. As I did I saw a headline for "R W Peterson, Conservationist" and wondered who that was. I then read the first line of the story, about this "conservationist" being the former governor of Delaware. I knew immediately it was Russell Peterson.

Except for when Republican members of Congress or the state legislature die, I'm usually not too happy when I read that someone has been outfoxed by the grim reaper. However today when I read that this "conservationist" who lied to my daughter and me and all of the United States about his commitment to kill a horrible water project that he ultimately saved had died, I realized that in the end there is some justice in the world.

I hope your departure was painful, Russ, you despicable liar.

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