By Tucker Nelson
At Ducks Unlimited, our volunteers are our voice. They dedicate countless hours of their time to fundraising, promoting DU's message and mission, and advocating for policies that help advance wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Elected officials listen when DU members contact them via letters and phone calls, and when they meet with them in person.
At DU's 2017 national convention, newly elected President Rogers Hoyt Jr. announced that public policy would be one of the four pillars of his presidency. Hoyt challenged DU state chairs and other volunteers to join him in Washington, DC, for the first-ever volunteer policy training and fly-in. Nearly 50 DU state chairs, state policy chairs, board members, and other senior volunteers—representing a total of 26 states—heeded Hoyt's call to action and gathered in the nation's capital to learn how they could become more effective advocates for DU's policy priorities. During this three-day event, DU volunteers held more than 100 meetings with their elected representatives and their staffs on Capitol Hill. The meetings focused on two of DU's top policy priorities: funding and reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and ensuring a strong conservation title in the next Farm Bill. Building on the previous year's success, DU will hold its second volunteer policy training and fly-in January 29–31, 2019.
"The future of conservation in this country relies on the voices of people like you and me. DU's team of policy staff does a wonderful job, but our impact is amplified when our volunteers get involved," said Al Montna, DU's advisory senior vice president of public policy. "That spirit of activism is our foundation, and our volunteers will lead us into the future as we continue to conserve wetlands across this country, benefiting generations to come."
Among the volunteers who attended DU's first policy training and fly-in was DU Regional Vice President Nels Swenson, who is also DU's state policy chair in Wisconsin. Swenson recently led fellow DU volunteers in a successful effort to defeat proposed legislation that would have weakened important wetland protections in the Badger State. DU staff joined Swenson and other members of Wisconsin's volunteer policy team as they visited influential lawmakers in the state capital and in their districts. At these meetings, DU volunteers and staff discussed the importance of wetlands and the negative impacts the proposed legislation would have on these crucial natural resources. The policy team mobilized its call-to-action networks to make phone calls and attend in-district listening sessions to express concerns about the legislation at the grassroots level. DU volunteers and staff even testified at a public hearing held just before Christmas. Ultimately, a substitute bill was crafted and passed. The new bill posed significantly less risk to the state's wetlands and effectively saved thousands of acres of vital waterfowl habitat from being converted to other uses.
"We as an organization continue to be well received by most lawmakers, and DU has been able to move the needle in a positive direction against bills that would have had a negative impact on Wisconsin's wetlands," Swenson said. "The reason for DU's success is our team approach, which consists of a partnership between volunteers, staff, rank-and-file members, and our key partners."
The successful effort in Wisconsin is only one of many examples of the ways in which advocacy for public policy can make a huge difference for wetlands, waterfowl, and other wildlife. State and federal policies provide essential support for DU's work on the ground, which has conserved more than 14 million acres of wetlands and associated wildlife habitats across North America. Going forward, DU's dedicated team of policy volunteers will play a pivotal role in ensuring that future generations will enjoy the same natural treasures that we have today. For more information on how you can become a member of DU's public policy team, visit ducks.org/publicpolicy.
Tucker Nelson is governmental communications manager at DU's office in Washington, DC.