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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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A New Millennium, New Threats

At the turn of the 21st century, DU was at the top of its game. From the boreal forest to the estuaries of both coasts and the bottomlands and coastal marshes of the South, DU carried out its mission with fervor and efficiency. Its regional offices hummed with activity as DU collaborated with its many NAWMP partners to conserve key breeding, migration, and wintering habitats. 

Then, on September 11, 2001, terrorists struck on American soil, and like the rest of the nation, DU was powerfully moved by this attack on our homeland. The November/December issue of Ducks Unlimited depicted a beautiful pintail drake soaring against the backdrop of an American flag, and DU placed a full-page message on an interior page, quoting Thomas Jefferson: "A nation united can never be conquered."

Other challenges arose during this period. A steady, disturbing decline in the scaup population, the causes of which stumped biologists, raised concerns about the health of Canada's western boreal forest, where the majority of lesser scaup are raised. Timber harvests, agricultural expansion, petroleum production, oil sands mining, and hydroelectric development had increased dramatically in this formerly untrammeled region, threatening wetlands and other wildlife habitats. 

In response to these emerging threats, DU launched its boreal forest program in 1997, and with The Pew Charitable Trusts and other partners began working with natural resource managers to ensure that these activities are conducted in a sustainable manner that will not adversely affect wetland systems and waterfowl populations. The scale of this ongoing conservation effort is unlike any other in the world, with tens of millions of acres of boreal habitat having already received interim or permanent protection. Sustainable development plans are crafted with industry, most notably the forestry sector. DU biologists work closely with local communities, governments, and other partners in making these conservation achievements possible. Key leadership and financial support for this work is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has committed more than $60 million to DU in support of the boreal forest initiative. 

In 2006, DU launched the public phase of its second major fundraising campaign, Wetlands for Tomorrow, at its 69th national convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Wetlands for Tomorrow had a four-year goal of raising $1.7 billion—nearly twice the amount raised during Habitat 2000. Two years later, under the banner of Wetlands for Tomorrow, DU launched the Rescue the Duck Factory initiative to accelerate the protection of threatened native prairie in the Dakotas by purchasing conservation easements from cooperating landowners. 

In May 2010, several months after the resignation of Don Young, DU hired Dale Hall, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2005–2009), as its new chief executive officer. Hall became DU's second CEO, following longtime DU Chief Financial Officer Randy Graves, who held the position on an interim basis while a successor was being selected.  

A year after Hall took the helm, Wetlands for Tomorrow closed with a bang. Surpassing its original $1.7 billion goal, the campaign raised an astounding $1.88 billion and conserved some 2 million acres of wetlands on more than 4,800 DU projects across North America. The campaign's Rescue the Duck Factory initiative was also a huge success, raising more than $40 million and protecting nearly 150,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands through perpetual easements. As always, DU's volunteer leaders led by example, none more so than past Wetlands America Trust President and campaign co-chairman Jim Kennedy, who made a transformational $21 million gift in support of DU's conservation work on the prairies. 

Looking back 75 years, DU's founders would be amazed at all their organization has accomplished. Since 1937, DU has raised more than $3.5 billion, which has contributed to the conservation of nearly 13 million acres of wetlands and other prime wildlife habitat in all 50 states, each of the Canadian provinces, and key areas of Mexico. And yet, as DU moves into the fourth quarter-century of existence, it will require even more dedication, more work, and more money to meet the challenges of the future. Rising commodity prices, weakened wetland protections, and budget cuts to NAWCA and Farm Bill conservation programs threaten waterfowl populations on the prairies and in other high-priority areas. Saving the "best of the best" of North America's remaining waterfowl habitat, especially on the prairies where DU's work all began, won't be easy.

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