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Duck Numbers Remain Strong, But We Must Be Vigilant

Insights from Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall
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In July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released its 2013 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. Once again, the count was among the highest on record. The survey has been conducted by the USFWS across key waterfowl breeding areas of the United States and Canada since 1955. Collectively, these landscapes encompass what is known as the traditional survey area. Flying in small airplanes at low altitude, biologists and observers literally count ducks along the same established transects that survey crews have used for almost 60 years. The aerial survey numbers are "ground-truthed" by the Canadian Wildlife Service, provincial biologists, and Ducks Unlimited staff, ensuring that the data gathered give us reliable information about nesting populations. This year the survey reported 45.6 million breeding ducks!

Although this is a slight drop from last year's record 48.6 million ducks, it's the same as the previous record, which was reported in 2011. This is obviously very good news. Overall, we were blessed with good water on the nesting grounds this year, but we cannot become complacent. These good numbers reflect the crucial efforts of Ducks Unlimited and all our state, federal, and private-sector partners to overcome the substantial loss of grassland and wetland habitat that has occurred on the breeding grounds. Approximately 70 percent of this continent's historical grassland nesting habitat has been lost, yet the new conservation toolbox built through these partnerships has enabled remaining native and agricultural habitats to function in tandem to provide for the needs of waterfowl. 

It's important to remember that having high waterfowl numbers is simply one way of measuring the success of our cumulative efforts. Wetlands and grasslands also purify water, help recharge aquifers, and reduce flooding by slowly releasing runoff. But such benefits aren't always easy to quantify. To help spread our conservation message, we sometimes get a little help from our friends and partners. I can think of no better example of this than the invaluable publicity we are receiving from our friends at Bass Pro Shops and the NASCAR drivers they sponsor.

In May, at our national convention in Portland, Oregon, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris addressed attendees and presented video greetings from NASCAR's Tony Stewart and car owner Richard Childress. Morris then presented DU with a check for $76,000 in honor of our 76th birthday and announced that the DU logo would be displayed on Tony Stewart's No. 14 Sprint Cup Series car during the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway and on Childress's No. 3 Camping World Truck Series truck, which will be driven by Ty Dillon in an upcoming race at Talladega Superspeedway. Tony Stewart and the "Duck Car," as announcers began to call it, finished second in a tight and exciting race at Daytona on July 6. More than 100,000 fans watched the DU logo flying by at more than 190 miles per hour. What a race, and what a display of support for Ducks Unlimited! Let's hope Ty Dillon's race at Talladega on October 19 is just as exciting.

The generosity shown by Johnny Morris, Bass Pro, and these wonderful racing teams has given (and will continue to give) DU publicity that we could never pay for on our own. Thank you, Johnny, Richard, Tony, and Ty!

While the health of waterfowl populations in 2013 gives us much to be thankful for, we can't forget that we are in a race of our own—a race for the ducks. We must maintain our focus on protecting and restoring important habitat across the birds' range in order to see these kinds of numbers again in future wet years.


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