Though I’ve never hunted waterfowl, every year as fall approaches I buy a duck stamp. I get mine at a post office, but they also can be purchased online (www.duckstamp.com) or at larger outdoor stores. That $15 is the best conservation investment I make each year. Plus I get a collectible piece of miniature wildlife art. Pristine duck stamps can double in value in just a few years.
The 2010-11 stamp by Maryland artist Robert Beale depicts an American wigeon. “Duck stamp” is slang for the “Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.” It is required of all migratory bird hunters, but anyone can buy a duck stamp and know that the money is used to buy, lease and preserve wetlands all across the U.S.
Created in 1934, duck stamps were originally a federal license for hunting migratory waterfowl. Ninety-eight cents of every duck-stamp dollar goes to purchase or lease wetland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since its inception, this fund has generated more than $750 million and purchased or leased more than 5.3 million acres of valuable wetlands.
Just this week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission has approved more than $21 million in land acquisitions in 12 national wildlife refuges. The projects are supported by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which includes proceeds from the sales of duck stamps. These projects will add an estimated 12,000 acres of quality waterfowl habitat to the National Wildlife Refuge System, including 4,400 acres near the Gulf Coast.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to wildlife and nature conservation,” said Salazar. “The North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants, the National Wildlife Refuge System and the federal duck stamp are vital resources for waterfowl and wetland conservation, and these efforts are making a difference for wildlife habitats throughout our nation’s great outdoors.”
Furthermore, waterfowl are just a few of the wildlife species that benefit from duck stamps. Wetlands provide critical habitat for many protected nongame and endangered species as well. In fact, 59 refuges have been established primarily to provide habitat for threatened or endangered species. Herons, egrets, raptors, frogs, turtles, fish, snakes and myriad insects are just some of the other species that benefit from the habitat duck-stamp funds purchase. And of course, wetlands purify water supplies, store floodwaters, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and provide spawning area for many fish.
Duck stamps work for all wildlife and all groups interested in wildlife, not just ducks and hunters. If you’ve ever watched birds, hiked or photographed wildlife at a national wildlife refuge, you did it courtesy of the duck-stamp program. Buying a duck stamp is a simple way to give a little back. Plus, a current duck stamp serves as an entrance pass for any national wildlife refuge where admission is normally charged.
Another way to promote waterfowl and wetland conservation is to support Ducks Unlimited (www.ducks.org; join online for $25). Conservation-minded sportsmen formed Ducks Unlimited (DU) in 1937 during the days of the Dust Bowl and unprecedented drought that sent continental waterfowl populations to historic lows.
Today, DU membership in the U.S., Canada and Mexico exceeds 773,000, and nearly 60 million acres of wetlands have been influenced by DU activities. Since 1937, DU has raised $3.16 billion, and 86 percent of those funds have gone directly to wetlands conservation. Annual fundraisers at the state and local levels include membership banquets, shooting and fishing tournaments and golf outings.
The single-minded vision of Ducks Unlimited is “wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”
The reason both Ducks Unlimited and the duck-stamp program focus on wetland habitat is that ducks nest in wetlands, and they are the key to waterfowl conservation. During drought years when wetlands dry up and disappear, waterfowl populations decline quickly. During wet years, they recover. The more wetlands conservationists protect, the better waterfowl populations can survive periodic droughts.
For information about local DU chapters and upcoming events in your state, click on “DU in Your State.”
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, R.D. 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or by e-mail via my website, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.