On January 29, 2017, Ducks Unlimited Inc. will celebrate 80 years of conservation success. There can be little doubt that when Joseph Knapp, Arthur Bartley, John Huntington, and Ray Benson gathered at Knapp's cabin on the Beaverkill River, they could not have imagined the impact their decision would make on North America's wetlands and waterfowl. Benson, who had been on the staff of the More Game Birds in America Foundation, threw his full support behind the evolution of More Game Birds into Ducks Unlimited.
It had begun in earnest in the early 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Not only were millions of Americans out of work with more than 25 percent unemployment, but farms were literally "blowing away" as horrific dust storms extended all the way to the East Coast. There was no question that something had to be done to stabilize the soils and halt the devastating erosion that was occurring across the continent. At that time of overwhelming challenges, duck hunters asked Congress to make them buy a stamp in order to hunt waterfowl, but the earnings from the stamp had to be dedicated to wetlands and waterfowl habitat conservation. As a result, the 1934 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (Duck Stamp) was born, and since then it has conserved more than 6 million acres of habitat. At the same time, science was emerging that indicated the importance of habitat conservation on the nesting grounds. Ducks Unlimited would address that issue.
From our inception until 1984, Ducks Unlimited Inc. raised funds and sent them to our sister organization, Ducks Unlimited Canada (formed in 1938), to do habitat conservation work in Canada. Initially, funds were contributed by a small number of large donors. Then, when veterans returned from World War II, there emerged a ground swell of rank-and-file members who wanted to make a positive difference in the world they had seen so viciously ravaged by war. Through efforts such as the "Duk-A-Nikel" program, individual hunting camps would raise money and contribute it to DU. Fundraising took a huge step forward in the 1960s with the serious advent of chapters and fundraising dinners. Prior to 1965, DU had never achieved the $1 million mark in annual fundraising. They surpassed that goal in 1966 and by 1976 had reached the $10 million target! This had been accomplished by hiring full-time staff to recruit and work with the rapidly increasing network of DU volunteers, who have become the shining examples of Aldo Leopold's "citizen conservationists." Today, DU proudly recognizes a volunteer support base of more than 56,000! In 1974, Ducks Unlimited de Mexico was incorporated to finish out the effort for a North American DU presence.
In 1984, DU broke ground on the first project in the United States, and President Peter Coors announced that all states were now eligible for habitat conservation projects. This expansion of focus resulted from new science that strongly indicated the importance of migration and wintering habitat on the success of nesting birds, and also recognized the contribution of U.S. nesting grounds to North American waterfowl populations. As of June 30, 2016, the three DUs have conserved more than 13.8 million acres of wetlands and waterfowl habitat across the continent!
The success of Ducks Unlimited is a testament to the foresight, courage, and passion of generations of waterfowl hunter-conservationists and all those who care about the wonderful natural resource treasures we have been given to steward. So, congratulations to Ducks Unlimited for 80 years of selfless contributions to future generations.
Happy Birthday, Ducks Unlimited!