Seventy-five years ago this month, a small group of avid waterfowlers took bold action to help restore waterfowl populations devastated by drought and wetland drainage. Led by printing magnate Joseph Palmer Knapp and other members of the More Game Birds in American Foundation, these conservation pioneers founded a new organization with the singular mission of protecting and restoring wetlands in Canada, where the majority of the continent's waterfowl are raised. The first announcement of this group's creation was made by More Game Birds in its 1936 annual report:
The new organization would proceed with the preservation of unspoiled northern breeding grounds through cooperation with provincial and Dominion officials. Restoration of southern areas would be accomplished by selection and development of local projects after careful choice of the most suitable sites. Funds with which to support the work are to be obtained entirely through contributions from sportsmen in the United States—those who are the beneficiaries of the wild duck crops produced in Canada. "Ducks Unlimited" will be the name of the new Canadian foundation.
A year after outlining their plan, the dream of Knapp and his colleagues became a reality. Ducks Unlimited, Inc.—the U.S.-based entity that would serve to gather and disperse funds—was incorporated on January 29, 1937, in Washington, D.C. Ducks Unlimited Canada, the entity that would actually carry out the founders' ambitious plan, was incorporated shortly thereafter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on March 10.
"First Nation-Wide Organization of Wild Fowlers Completed" was the headline of the inaugural issue of the Ducks Unlimited quarterly in April 1938. To raise funds for its conservation work, DU immediately began working to organize a volunteer committee in each state, under the guidance of a competent state chairman, assisted by one or more vice chairmen and other officers. Each state committee had a financial target they had to accept and try to meet. Unlike today's DU, early "membership" was in the form of five-year "subscriptions"—the same method used by More Game Birds. The length of these pledges would help facilitate long-range planning—knowing how much money was coming down the road would allow DU Canada to plan for projects several years in advance.
Now, 75 years later, DU's founders would be proud of what their organization has accomplished for waterfowl. Supported by legions of dedicated volunteers, DU has raised more than $3.3 billion to conserve more than 12.4 million acres of wetlands and other waterfowl habitat across North America.
This noble conservation tradition will continue this year as Ducks Unlimited celebrates its 75th Anniversary. Highlights will include DU's 75th national convention, which will serve as a homecoming for past and present DU volunteers and staff the weekend of May 30−June 2, 2012, in Nashville, Tennessee. For example, all current and former state chairmen will be invited to attend a special night of fellowship at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in the Music City. Throughout this anniversary year, special event merchandise, including three commemorative dinner guns and an all-star art package, will be available at DU events nationwide. Diamond Anniversary project dedications will be held in each state to celebrate DU's conservation work. A special historical episode of DU-TV will air on the Outdoor Channel. And of course, stay tuned to Ducks Unlimited magazine and the DU website at www.ducks.org/75 for special anniversary coverage throughout the year.
Purchase the The Ducks Unlimited Story—This hardcover book by Michael Furtman tells the story of Ducks Unlimited's first 75 years, from its founding in 1937 to the generations of sportsmen who made DU the greatest conservation organization in history. The Ducks Unlimited Story also includes never-before-seen pictures and documents recently discovered in DU's archives.