For the Ducks: Loyal to the Cause

A message to Team DU

Michael Furtman

Eve; Courtesy of Emma Putnam

By Adam H. Putnam, Chief Executive Officer

My Boykin spaniel, Eve, would rather fish than hunt. She can spend hours chest-deep in a lake chasing minnows. I wanted her to be a great bird dog, and I fell in love with Boykins while hunting ducks and quail on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

But Eve is not a great bird dog, nor is she even an average sporting dog.

When Eve was a puppy, she was in the yard beside a tree when it was hit by lightning. Ever since, she has been a weather dog, accurately forecasting a summer storm hours before it arrives by quaking, slobbering, and attaching herself to your lap during a daytime rain and jumping onto your chest if you're in bed when the storm comes. She nearly lost her life at the hands of my wife one summer afternoon when she ran through a newly rebuilt screen door during a storm... and then did it again just two hours later when a second squall moved through.

But Eve is a wonderful family member. My son walks her every night, because he knows the value of a cute dog for breaking the ice in a new town. And she has been loved most dearly by my three girls, who raised her with bows in her hair and holiday-themed bandanas around her neck. Such are the inseparable memories of ourselves and our four-legged friends, and the primal bond that connects us on sunny days and stormy ones alike. This is the essence of our annual issue devoted to our loyal canine companions, and we have a wonderful essay by Eddie Nickens on his dog, Minnie, and tips from one the greatest dog trainers ever, Robert Milner.

Last month, at our DU Board of Directors meeting, we celebrated an extraordinary milestone: 15 million acres conserved across North America! Let that sink in while you scratch your dog's ears. Since 1937, our members have conserved an area the size of West Virginia. Even more impressive to me is the acceleration in the rate of conservation that DU achieves. It took from our founding until 1961 to conserve the first million acres. We will hit 16 million in 18 months (or less) at the pace we are on today!

Unlike our early supporters, we can now efficiently match your contributions with corporate sustainability grants that then attract state or federal wildlife and wetlands conservation funds (that you made possible when you bought firearms, ammo, and duck stamps) and deploy those dollars on the ground. Nobody does it better than DU, and we can do it because you support us. In hindsight it all seems so clear that we would become the world leader in wetlands conservation, but it wasn't inertia that got us here.

It took guts and persistence to create DU in a Dust Bowl- and Depression-era economy, when folks didn't have much to eat for themselves, let alone extra dollars for ducks. It was a big decision to send money to the Canadian prairies and DU Canada, and another big debate to begin projects inside the United States in the 1980s. Helping to found and support Ducks Unlimited de México made us a continental force for waterfowl habitat, but we soon realized how much good we were also doing for people by cleaning up water and protecting wetlands that supported their livelihoods. The passage of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act in 1989 was a game changer for us with matching grants now targeted at the habitat we specialize in, but it wasn't without our efforts that it became law. All these accomplishments seem obvious in the rearview mirror but they were big changes, heated debates, and scary business decisions at the time.

Our focus hasn't changed. Our mission hasn't changed. Our tactics have. Not unlike your favorite dog, DU is your loyal conservation companion. We are devoted to you and to your outdoors lifestyle. Without you, we can't do our best work. We are passionate about spending time in the wetlands we love. And we aren't afraid or ashamed to learn new tricks, use new tools, or make new friends if it means more ducks in the air and more acres to roam.

Here's to the next 15 million!

From the May/June 2021 issue of Ducks Unlimited magazine