By Scott Sutherland
Recently, a friend who is a longtime DU staff member and volunteer saw an advertisement for a job vacancy in DU’s Washington, D.C., office and called me in alarm. He was concerned that we were doing something wrong. The position description contained the words “full-time lobbyist.” He insisted that DU could get into trouble if we lobbied and that it could jeopardize the organization’s nonprofit status.
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Sometimes we joke that DU is the conservation world’s best kept secret. My friend’s call gave me the chance to share what sometimes seems like a secret, but shouldn’t be. Okay, are you ready for the secret, because here it comes: Ducks Unlimited has been “lobbying” almost since the organization was founded 70 years ago. Within limits, it’s perfectly legal for nonprofits to lobby, and today DU expends extensive effort to work with our government to foster and fund programs that help safeguard the present and future for waterfowl.
Now let me clarify this a bit. By “lobbying,” I don’t mean that DU staff members are using conservation money to write $500 checks to attend political fundraisers. That’s only one aspect of lobbying, and as a nonprofit, we’re not allowed to do that. When we lobby, much of what we’re doing is helping to educate members of congress, state legislators, and their key staffs. This has been done (although less formally) for many decades when issues important to the waterfowl resource have arisen.
A little history is in order. In the late 1980s, DU’s board of directors realized how important the North American Waterfowl Management Plan was to the future of waterfowl. They wanted to encourage important decision makers to actively support it, so DU opened a Washington, D.C., office to educate Congress and others about the plan’s importance and hence obtain funding for the conservation activities that would be required to reach the plan’s goals. Many battles and many victories later, the governmental affairs office has become an integral part of DU, delivering opportunities to significantly fund waterfowl programs, promoting duck-friendly policies, and discouraging harmful ones.
Today, DU has a professional staff working in Washington, D.C., in the regional offices, and at headquarters that combines well over a century of experience working on Capitol Hill, on the White House staff, within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, and within state agencies and legislatures.
Right now, we’re involved in over 30 issues that include helping to combat the most extensive wetland loss on the planet (the disappearing Louisiana coast), working to ease taxation of conservation easements, and obtaining funding that allows hunting and other active management on national wildlife refuges. And, of course, the governmental affairs office works on the critically important public policy issues with which DU members are most familiar, like the Farm Bill and North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA).