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Ducks Unlimited

The Richard King Mellon Foundation helps engage the next generation of conservationists through R3 programs such as Third Term—Ducks Unlimited’s annual leadership summit for college students.


Ducks Unlimited believes that the key to recruiting and activating the next generation of hunter-conservationists in America lies in our high school and college volunteers. Two factors that have limited DU’s growth in this area have been funding and personnel. Thanks to the generosity of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, DU has been able to scale up both. DU has once again partnered with the foundation, which recently awarded a $219,000 grant to hire a youth engagement coordinator in a 13-state region stretching as far west as Ohio and Pennsylvania and east to Maine.

While this role will be focused on all aspects of R3 (hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation), the main focus will be Ducks University, which began in 1984 with the formation of DU chapters at the University of Texas and Louisiana State University. Since then, the number of active college chapters has steadily increased. In 2022, 90 active chapters were responsible for raising $2.3 million for DU’s conservation mission.

“The college chapters are designed to engage students in hunting and outdoor activities while also providing leadership opportunities and conserving wetland landscapes,” said Justin Aycock, DU’s manager of youth engagement programs. “They create a sense of community and camaraderie around DU’s mission, hunting, and outdoor experiences through mentorship, peer interactions, and hosting events to raise awareness and fund conservation.”

The goal is for students to continue their conservation work long after graduation, becoming a part of an existing local chapter or founding a new one. DU is committed to expanding opportunities for students of all backgrounds, meeting young people where they are, and working toward being inclusive of everyone. That would not be possible without this partnership and the generosity of the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The foundation, which has invested in the nation’s outdoors and environmental heritage since 1947, also made a generous $100,000 gift to restore public wetlands through the Pennsylvania Wetland Habitat Initiative—a partnership with the Pennsylvania Game Commission that will improve 1,600 acres of wetland habitats on 61 state game lands across Pennsylvania. This is the largest conservation initiative DU has ever undertaken in Pennsylvania.

The foundation’s gift is being directed toward projects in the Shenango and French Creek watersheds. These watersheds provide habitat for numerous species of waterfowl and other migratory birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, including several threatened and endangered species. This investment will ensure that wetlands in these watersheds can be restored and managed to maximize their productivity for clean water and healthy fish and wildlife populations.

“Ducks Unlimited is one of our longest-standing conservation partners,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “More than 75 years ago, our trustees approved a grant to Ducks Unlimited at the foundation’s very first board meeting. We have been proud to partner with Ducks Unlimited ever since, and we are eager to see the positive benefits they hope to generate with this latest funding.”