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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Federal Duck Stamp turns 80

For eight decades, this visionary program has been a cornerstone of wetlands and waterfowl conservation
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  • This handsome pair of canvasbacks, painted by South Dakota artist Adam Grimm, will grace the 2014-2015 federal duck stamp.
    photo by USFWS
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Why Should I Buy Duck Stamps?

There are many reasons to buy duck stamps. Hunters age 16 and older must purchase a federal duck stamp each year to legally hunt migratory waterfowl in the United States. Birders and other visitors to national wildlife refuges buy the stamp each year to gain free admission to these public lands. Collectors appreciate the beautiful artwork and the collectibility of the stamps. Whatever your motivation for purchasing duck stamps, buy a couple of them each year to help make a difference for waterfowl and our sporting traditions.

Still, those who cared about the health of waterfowl populations recognized the need for federal action, and several important laws were passed early in the 20th century. The Lacey Act of 1900 sought to curtail market hunting by making it a federal crime to transport illegally taken game across state lines. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 established which species of migratory birds could legally be hunted, and designated the federal governments of the United States and Canada as the primary authorities for regulating migratory bird harvests. But these laws were regulatory in nature and did nothing to address the ecological needs of waterfowl.

The emerging science of wildlife management made it clear that what waterfowl needed was more habitat, especially on the prairie breeding grounds. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which authorized the acquisition of wetlands in the United States as waterfowl habitat but did not establish the funding for this work. When the stock market crashed later that fall, the resulting economic depression seemed to doom any hope of securing federal dollars to acquire more land for wildlife refuges.

Undaunted, hunters and other wildlife advocates rose to the challenge, pressuring President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to do something about the "duck depression." In 1933, Roosevelt responded by appointing a special committee to formulate a program for restoring waterfowl populations. Chairing the three-man committee was Thomas Beck, editor of Collier's magazine, which was owned by Joseph Knapp—who just a few years later would found Ducks Unlimited. Joining Beck on the committee were two of the nation's staunchest conservationists, Aldo Leopold and Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling.

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