On February 20, 2014, a historic event occurred at Ducks Unlimited's winter board meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Our friends and partners at the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Pheasants Forever (PF), and Quail Forever (QF) joined me in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to solidify our cooperative efforts to advance the conservation of North America's bird habitats. The MOU will also foster the protection and growth of our national hunting heritage.
In building any partnership, it is important to remember that all relationships are between people, not between companies, agencies, or organizations. Everything builds from trust that has developed between people who care about the same objectives. That is certainly true in this case.
Initially, the discussions with my good friends George Thornton, CEO of the NWTF, and Howard Vincent, president and CEO of PF and QF, took place over the phone and at meetings in Washington, D.C. Then we did what any group of dedicated hunters and anglers would do in order to talk conservation strategy—we went fishing! George invited Howard and me to his farm in Georgia early last fall so we could have some quiet, uninterrupted time to discuss ways that our organizations could join forces in order to become more effective and efficient in conserving the fish and wildlife resources all of us treasure. Our discussions quickly focused on wildlife habitat as well as on hunters, who pioneered wildlife conservation and still pay for the management of important habitats and the species that depend on them.
Each day in the United States, approximately 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat are lost to development, erosion, or lack of adequate water to support the needs of various species. In addition, the population of hunters has declined significantly over the past few decades, currently representing less than 10 percent of the U.S. population.
Children today are more and more distracted from the pursuit of the various forms of "free play" outdoors that the kids of previous generations always enjoyed. I sometimes wonder if the healthiest muscles in some of our youth are those used to tap out emails, texts, or tweets. Don't get me wrong; I support the advancement of communication tools that help us learn faster and find answers to our questions in ways that I would not have dreamed possible when I was a college student. However, we need to keep pushing for a balance between encouraging our children's social development and helping them connect with the natural world, which is just as important to their well-being. Obviously, we at DU, NWTF, PF, and QF fully believe that one of the best ways to make that connection is through hunting, and we need to keep working to bring more youth into the sport to ensure a healthy number of conservationists in the future.
One of the often-overlooked facts about America's citizen conservationists is that most of us belong to several organizations and support conservation wherever we can. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that all four of our organizations share a number of goals and commitments. Waterfowl, for example, need the same upland habitat that is often identified with turkey habitat, while agricultural lands are among the most productive bird habitats in the nation. Obviously, all birds need the water provided by wetlands, streams, and ponds. Working together to protect the ecosystems that sustain bird populations is a natural fit for us all. And so is joining forces to provide opportunities to get our youth outdoors and involved in hunting and conservation. Together, we will make this happen.
Chief Executive Officer