Growing Support for Waterfowl Conservation
Ensuring future generations of waterfowl conservation supporters is among the greatest challenges facing DU during its next 75 years. DU was founded
by a small group of avid waterfowlers, and hunters have been and continue to be the backbone of the organization's support. Unfortunately, waterfowl hunter numbers have declined gradually over the past 40 years, from 2 million in the early 1970s to 1.15 million in 2011.
Despite nearly two decades of liberal harvest regulations, generally favorable habitat conditions, and record waterfowl populations in some years, we have been unable to maintain traditional numbers of waterfowlers. Well-documented reasons for the growing disconnect between people and the outdoors include a shift from a rural to an urban lifestyle, increasing competition for free time, lack of access, and an aging U.S. population. Regardless of the causes, DU members have great potential to influence participation in waterfowl hunting and wetlands conservation.
We should start by focusing on our existing strength. Waterfowlers who always purchase a duck stamp and are long-term DU members
are the bedrock of the waterfowl conservation community.
For many of us, introducing today's youth to the wonders of waterfowling
is a compelling cause. As a grandparent, I am particularly aware of my responsibility to pass on waterfowling traditions to my grandchildren. They are among the new recruits who will perpetuate DU and waterfowl conservation in decades to come. It's up to us to mentor and encourage young waterfowlers to join our ranks.
But potential new waterfowl conservationists are not limited to young people or even to waterfowlers. Although the majority of those who support waterfowl conservation today are hunters who began hunting at an early age and come from a hunting family, this may not be the case in the future. For example, between 10 and 20 percent of today's DU members do not hunt. These individuals, who support waterfowl and wetlands conservation but are not hunters, represent a large potential pool of future conservation supporters. According to a 2012 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 13.3 million people travel away from home to observe waterfowl, including 4.2 million who travel out of state to do so. If just 10 percent of waterfowl viewers who do not currently purchase ducks stamps did so in the future, an additional $20 million would be contributed to the National Wildlife Refuge System each year.
Support from an even broader constituency could come as a result of the many societal benefits wetlands provide, including clean water, flood abatement, and groundwater recharge. For example, policies focused on water availability in California
, flood mitigation in the Midwest, water quality in Chesapeake Bay, or coastal wetland loss in Louisiana
could provide significant new support for wetlands conservation, benefiting all who appreciate waterfowl and their habitats.
The largest near-term gains in conservation support could be achieved by simply retaining more DU members from year to year and reengaging past DU supporters who are not currently active in the organization. In any given year, only about half of DU members renew their membership
. In total, more than 3 million men and women have been DU members for at least one year during the past two decades. It's up to us to ask all past DU supporters to return to the fold.
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