The Role of Ducks Unlimited in Natural Disasters

Insights from DU CEO Dale Hall

This has been one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in decades, and many of our Ducks Unlimited family and friends have been impacted. Starting with Harvey in Texas, then Irma in Florida, followed by Maria pounding our friends in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands, the disruption and loss of lives has been horrendous. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence. When I came on board in 2010, we were squarely in the teeth of the worst industrial disaster in American history, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It took weeks to simply stop the oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Each year since then, there have been other types of disasters in the form of floods in North Dakota, Hurricane Sandy, flooding in California with threats of dam failure, and the ever-present wildfires in the West that are annual occurrences. Nature is neither good nor bad: she simply functions and we react.

When these challenges occur each year, we are reminded that we can do little at Ducks Unlimited to truly make a difference for the people on the ground who have been impacted. Our volunteers and on-the-ground staff, however, have always been among the first to respond with boats and manpower to help get stranded people to safety. I take a great deal of pride when the now well-known "Cajun Navy" mobilizes to assist because I know that a very large percentage of them are DU volunteers. Nick Lichenstein and many, many other DU volunteers are part of that caravan headed toward disaster. They make us all proud.

The role of Ducks Unlimited as a company in dealing with these ever-recurring natural disasters, however, is to stay focused on what we can do that actually makes a difference. We know the science strongly indicates that for every 2.7 miles a hurricane travels across emergent marsh (marsh where the soils and grasses are above the waterline), the water surge at landfall is reduced by one foot. That is not insignificant. We also know how important wetlands, grasses, and open spaces are to the storage of floodwaters. When I was a young biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I came across a Corps of Engineers pamphlet with the title "God Creates Floods, Man Creates Flood Damage." To me, this was one of the most important messages I have ever received on the value of wetlands conservation

As a people and as a country, we will continue to grow and (hopefully) prosper. To condemn the rights of people to life and liberty in building homes and happiness is simply not the way we react. We hold those rights with reverence. Instead, we at DU look to see how we can help have prosperity while providing as much protection against natural disaster as possible. We do that through the protection, conservation, and re-creation of wetlands and other natural buffers. We also know that wetlands purify water for people and wildlife, serve as ground-water recharge zones, and benefit 700 to 900 species at every project DU undertakes. 

As our volunteers, local staff, and friends do all they can to assist in the cleanup and rebuilding after storm events, let us challenge ourselves to double down on our education efforts regarding the value of wetlands and open spaces. I believe that the more the public understands about the tremendous values provided by wetlands in ecological goods and services that help PEOPLE, the more they will want to be part of DU and our conservation mission.

Dale Hall, 
Chief Executive Officer