For the Ducks: Taking Nothing for Granted

As we enjoy another season, we should remember the people and conservation victories that make our outdoor experiences possible

Our favorite season is here! Shorter days, southern dove field afternoons, crisp northern mornings, and football on the radio sharpen our senses and awaken us from summer's long nap. Like schoolchildren who race to bus stops in shiny new shoes, nature scrambles to gather and hoard before it's too late. While the tilt of Earth away from the sun may mean the end of a season for much of our hemisphere, it is very much a new beginning for people who draw their energy from the smell of a campfire and who love being outdoors more than in. To those who mark their calendar by the advent of hunting season...  happy new year!

As we celebrate our 85 years of work to conserve wetlands and waterfowl—and all the other creatures who benefit from our zeal (including two-legged ones)—we should note that in the same year as our founding, President Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, or Pittman-Robertson Act. This law is still the fundamental basis for funding state wildlife conservation programs across the country, including the population surveys, waterfowl banding programs, wildlife management areas, and research that help ensure healthy populations of many species.

This landmark act was passed at a time when some game animals were on the brink of extinction, and the dollars raised through excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition helped fund successful efforts to bring back the wood duck, the white-tailed deer, and the wild turkey to name a few. The law was written at the urging of hunters and the sporting goods industry, as the benefits of greater hunting opportunities are logically followed by folks like us purchasing more hunting and shooting gear from manufacturers. This in turn raises more money for wildlife habitat conservation, and the virtuous cycle continues.

According to one survey, hunters now spend more than $12 billion a year on gear. I dedicate this column to this conservation funding model because it is important that we not take it for granted, and that we all remember how successful this partnership among hunters, states, the federal government, and organizations like DU has truly been. The program has raised billions of dollars that otherwise would have been siphoned off elsewhere, and it has set aside millions of acres of public land for all of us to enjoy. We should be proud that we have a hand in saving and increasing populations of countless species of wildlife as a gift to the next generation. DU strongly supports this good idea and will work to educate all who will listen about the benefits of Pittman-Robertson.

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The first cover of Ducks Unlimited featured the artwork of David Maass, who is profiled in the September / October 2022 issue.

Another gift to conservation has been a singularly gifted artist, David Maass. David is a two-time federal duck stamp winner and a five-time DU Artist of the Year. It is his work that graces the cover of this issue as it has many times in the past. In fact, he was our cover artist for the very first issue of DU magazine in 1963, and in following years his art has appeared on our cover more often than any other artist. You will enjoy our profile of David in this issue, and may we all live to do what we love as long as he has. He is a national treasure.

I know you are all interested in the results of the recent Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which determines waterfowl season days and bag limits. After being grounded for two covid-restricted years, the survey resumed this spring. Eddie Nickens does a deep dive on the work of the pilot-biologists and ground crews who survey the breeding grounds every year. We will have the results back in time for the next issue of this magazine, along with some analysis of what the numbers mean for the 2023−24 season. Early indications are positive for better conditions after timely precipitation across much of the prairies. Unfortunately, the western United States remains in an epic drought.

We have much to celebrate with our many acres conserved, but as I told our 1,000 conventioneers this summer, there is no DU without YOU. You make the secret sauce that is our success, and I thank you for that.