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World Leader in Wetlands Conservation

Philanthropic Leaders Help Shape Conservation as Part of WAT and DU Boards

Diane & Doug Oberhelman – Edwards, Illinois
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  • Diane and Doug Oberhelman at their Quail Lakes property with retrievers Diesel and Dozer
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When you talk to Diamond Legacy Sponsors Diane and Doug Oberhelman about their Quail Lakes property in Illinois, you can't help but be reminded of a quote from environmental author Aldo Leopold: "A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land."

Since the mid-1990s, the Oberhelmans have brought wildlife and native plants back to Quail Lakes' 1,200 acres, which served as a coal mine from 1976 to 1984. It is a great example of a public-private partnership in development planning and restoration, and Diane, Doug, and their friend and outdoor columnist Jeff Lampe have co-authored a book about it. Titled "Quail Lakes & Coal: Energy for Wildlife … And the World," it chronicles the history of Quail Lakes from wilderness and early Native Americans, through the pioneers and settlers, to the creation of the surface mine, and finally its restoration.

Beyond the intensive work they do on their own land, the Oberhelmans speak passionately about their charitable giving and their support for Ducks Unlimited. "Several years ago, we put a lot of thought into our philanthropy and settled on four areas to support: conservation, education, cancer research, and children with disabilities," Doug said. "We feel strongly that people of means and ability need to give back."

While Ducks Unlimited – particularly Wetlands America Trust (WAT), where Doug serves as vice president – was a clear choice for the Oberhelmans' conservation philanthropy, their reasons were quite different. For Doug, it was the science that underpins DU's conservation work. "It wasn't until 1995 that I got involved with DU, and in 2005, I started to meet the good people who were part of Wetlands America Trust," he remembers. "I learned about the science that guides DU's work. I wanted to get involved."

Diane, now an at-large member of DU's board of directors, chose to support the organization for its involvement in land acquisition and protection. "Our trip to the Boreal Forest last summer to see that vast landscape really brought home how we can help responsibly develop and protect this amazing breeding area," she said.

The Oberhelmans also stress that part of their work in supporting WAT is to get others involved. "Hunters spend quite a bit of time outdoors, but you don't need to be a hunter to support the work that DU does," Diane said. "We need to get others involved; everyone has a responsibility for conservation."

Wetlands America Trust is where some of DU's most important conservation decisions are made. WAT's work involves large landscapes and significant expenditures. Doug's experience with large and complex land transactions and his role as chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc. have provided him with key insights that help guide WAT and accomplish DU's conservation mission.

The WAT board also helps with other heavy lifting for Ducks Unlimited. From approving significant habitat purchases and conservation easements to helping with issues in our nation's capital, WAT is involved in making important things happen for waterfowl and wildlife.

"The government has a huge stake in what happens to wildlife," Doug said. "The big chunks [of land] – the large tracts – can be added or taken away at almost any time. Outdoors people know this better than anyone else. We are the common thread for doing things the right way for wildlife. We have been for generations, and we need to continue to be in the future."

The Oberhelmans' story was featured in the 2013 Ducks Unlimited Annual Report. For more information on becoming a DU Major Sponsor, please visit our Leadership Giving homepage or contact Senior Manager of Development Operations Anita Tyler at (901) 758-3871 or atyler@ducks.org.

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