For the Ducks: Open Season for Black Swans

A message to Team DU

Michael Furtman

The black swan theory, or theory of black swan events, is a metaphor developed by author Nassim Taleb to describe an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

Many duck seasons ago, Queen Elizabeth II declared an annus horribilis. My Latin is generally of the pig variety, but I think it meant things were a little bumpy in the royal household. Imagine the Latin conjugation she'd have mustered at the thought of homeschooling the whole tribe of Windsors at the dining room table while mastering the proper angle of a Zoom selfie for a speech to the British Empire. 

Now, I know we are a conservation organization, so it is at great risk that I say this: It is high time for an open season for black swans. Unlike snow geese, which can be destructive in some areas, the black swan has an appetite far greater than the random rice field; its reach is global. Around the world, it has left widespread death, destruction, and dislocation in its wake. This particular swan flew in under the cover of a vibrant economy and a record-breaking year at Ducks Unlimited. It took only weeks, though, for it to close businesses, clear city streets, crash international financial markets, and postpone 2,000 DU events. It also gave us time and opportunity to appreciate those we love and shelter in place with. 

Like everyone, we are adjusting to new ways to communicate, deliver on our mission, and power through this storm. And, like everyone, this is affecting every aspect of our business and challenging long-held assumptions about how we go about our work. The lessons we are learning the (very) hard way will make us even better at delivering our conservation mission in the future. Our team is stepping up in new and creative ways, with agility that rivals the Olympic athletes who sadly won't compete this summer. 

As of this writing, the world is still upside down, murky as to a way forward, and living with varying levels of anxiety. On reflection, that surely describes the world of 1937 . . . global strife, economic darkness, and a pervasive fear of what the future would hold. 
Within that cloud of uncertainty, there remained leaders who lit the torch of hope and redoubled efforts to advance conservation despite the risks. From those hardy souls came the founding of Ducks Unlimited. 

Today we may fairly ask ourselves if we are as passionate as they were, as dedicated to the cause, as willing to make the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl a priority despite the many other urgent problems competing for attention and investment. 

The answer is a loud and resounding yes! Our supporters, volunteers, and leaders are every bit as committed to the cause as those in the late 1930s. Unlike our founders, we have the benefit of their foresight as our hindsight. We know what we do works, we know our mission has meaning, and we have seen tangible success over the past 83 years. 

This crisis, like others we've weathered, will pass. Kids will return to schools, gatherings of more than 10 will be legal once more, and we will again have to wear business attire above and below the waist. On the backside of this sheltering season will emerge a Ducks Unlimited that yet again rises to meet the challenge of the times and redoubles its efforts to fill the skies with waterfowl . . . except those black swans. 

Stay well, everyone.

From the May/June 2020 issue of Ducks Unlimited magazine