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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Why the Duck Stamp Is Worth the Effort

Insights from Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall
  • photo by USFWS
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The federal duck stamp, formally known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, was created under the leadership of editorial-cartoonist-turned-federal-agency-chief Jay N. "Ding" Darling in 1934. As both a talented artist and the director of the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Darling personally designed the first duck stamp, which was issued at a cost of one dollar. This, in and of itself, represents a conservation milestone, but it is the times in which it occurred that make this story even more amazing.

In the early 1930s, America was reeling in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Dust Bowl era. History reflects that 25 percent of America's workforce was unemployed. Many families stood in breadlines that stretched for blocks just to have a little something to eat each day. In the plains states, farmers and ranchers abandoned their life's dreams in the dust that engulfed their barns and homes. Some returned to the East Coast. Many headed west in hopes of finding a brighter future in California. The quest to feed their families drove everything. Bank closures had created panic in the everyday lives of hard- working people, who now hid what cash they had under mattresses or in coffee cans buried in the corn crib.

A dollar was a lot of money in 1934. It would buy flour, sugar, beans, and a chunk of fatback to feed a family for a week. So it is even more astonishing that waterfowl hunters, watching the populations of ducks and geese rapidly diminish as habitats dried up and blew away, banded together to ask the U.S. Congress to pass a law that required, for the first time, each adult hunter to pay one dollar for the purchase of a duck stamp in order to hunt waterfowl, which were a valued addition to many Depression-era tables. These hunter-conservationists also demanded that the proceeds from stamp sales go directly to habitat conservation.

Since its creation in 1934, the federal duck stamp has raised almost $1 billion and has allowed the purchase or lease of more than 6 million acres of wetlands, grasslands, and other waterfowl habitat. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar raised goes directly on the ground to conserve habitat that is protected under the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of all Americans. Many refuges also provide hunting and fishing opportunities for millions of sportsmen.

The conservation impact of the duck stamp, however, had eroded significantly since its last price increase to $15 in 1991. In fact, the duck stamp's purchasing power had dropped to the lowest level in its history.

That is why Ducks Unlimited and our devoted volunteers, led by Paul and Skipper Dickson of Louisiana along with our good friends Congressman John Fleming and Senator David Vitter, worked so hard to secure an increase in the price of the duck stamp from $15 to $25, with the $10 increase committed to the purchase of conservation easements on private lands. This allows the land to stay in private hands while still providing conservation benefits to the American people.

The Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014 was passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2014. This accomplishment speaks to the power of dedicated volunteers, the passion that drives us, and our desire to leave a legacy of abundant natural resources for future generations.

Has the duck stamp been worth it? Compare the devastating waterfowl population declines of the 1930s with the more than 100 million ducks and geese that migrated south this past fall. I believe the answer is clear.

Dale Hall,
Chief Executive Officer


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