World Watch magazine’s controversial article by Mac Chapin on how the Big Three conservation organizations are shafting indigenous peoples roiled the waters not just at those groups (World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International) but at Worldwatch itself. The upshot: The magazine’s editor is fleeing the coop.  Word is that Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin originally gave editor Ed Ayres the OK to run the piece, but Flavin got cold feet when he realized that WWF President Kathryn Fuller — whose portrayal in the article is less than favorable — chairs the board of the Ford Foundation, to which Worldwatch had recently submitted a grant proposal.  

But by the time Flavin’s toes started to feel the chill, the magazine had already gone to press. Multiple sources confirm that he called the printer and told them to destroy all the printed copies. With times lean as they are for nonprofits (and perhaps for Worldwatch in particular, as it tries to shore up funding after the 2001 ouster of well-known founder Lester Brown), Flavin apparently figured he’d rather pulp thousands of dollars worth of printed magazines than ruffle a funder’s feathers.

That didn’t sit well with Ayres, and a bit of kerfuffle ensued. In the end, it seems, Ayres won the battle — the magazine went out, the article made its splash — but lost the war. We hear that Ayres, now in his mid-60s, will be taking retirement at the end of the year. Seems he was edging toward the door anyway, thought likely to make his departure in the next year, but this little episode helped push forward the time frame.  

Oh, the irony. One thing Chapin’s article did particularly well was show how green groups are so beholden to their funding sources that they take great pains to avoid rocking the wrong boats.  

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(The public fracas over the article — though not the behind-the-scenes drama — made The Washington Post today.)

UPDATE: Ed Ayres says I got a key fact wrong in this item, and, well, he should know. In a comment below, he notes: “My retirement, which is effective November 30, has nothing to do with the firestorm resulting from Mac Chapin’s ‘Challenge to Conservationists’ in the November/December issue. I gave two months’ notice of my forthcoming retirement in a meeting I had with the Worldwatch president, Chris Flavin, on September 30 — long before he saw the article.” My apologies to Ed for this error.

And, lest this point be lost in the shuffle, World Watch did publish Marc Chapin’s hard-hitting article, for which it should be commended. The piece continues to generate much-needed discussion in the conservation community, and anyone who hasn’t read it yet should get cracking.

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