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World Leader in Wetlands Conservation

The Ducks Unlimited Story

Over the past 75 years, generations of DU supporters have worked together to safeguard the future of North America's wetlands and waterfowl 
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  • DU used the money it raised in the United States to fund the restoration of waterfowl breeding habitat in prairie Canada. Donor projects, like this one in Alberta, were often named after the states that sponsored them.
    photo by Ducks Unlimited
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Water on the Ground, Ducks in the Air

If it were not for three-quarters of a century of dedication and work by DU volunteers, staff, and partners, the magic that the prairie—and wetlands elsewhere—can produce would be greatly diminished. DU's work on the prairies began in 1938, shortly after the trustees of its Canadian affiliate, Ducks Unlimited Canada, met on April 1 and 2 at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. The temporary trustees then elected a full slate of officers. The eight-man board of directors consisted of four Canadians and four Americans, as required by the bylaws. Among the four Americans was Arthur Bartley, DU Inc.'s first executive director. 

With a desire to produce ducks in all four flyways—and to recruit American members from the Atlantic to the Pacific—Bartley, other DU staff, and the board of directors believed it would be critical to undertake a major project in each of Canada's three prairie provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. They did not set the bar of success low. Instead, they decided that in their very first year of operations they would restore and manage at least 100,000 acres of former wetland habitat.

On April 21, 1938, engineer Don Stephens, naturalist Bert Cartwright, and General Manager Tom Main inspected the Big Grass Marsh site, which would be DU's first wetland restoration project. Crews were in the field within days, and the first water was put back on the land in May. They pursued their goals with an almost religious fervor. At the end of 1938, DU's first year (really only eight months) of field operations, Main and his team had not only met Bartley's goal of 100,000 acres restored, but had exceeded it by 55,000 acres. 

Over the next few decades, DU Canada made steady progress protecting or restoring habitat across the prairie provinces. As the sophistication of their techniques increased, so did their positive impact on the landscape. By 1965, DU had completed more than 800 conservation projects encompassing more than 1 million acres of prime waterfowl habitat. But increasing DU Canada's influence on the landscape, and its positive impact on waterfowl, came with a price tag, and DU Inc., in the United States, needed to grow to pay the tab.

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