Ducks, and other birds, of course, have wings. They do not understand the funny little imaginary lines people draw on pieces of paper and call “countries”. They cannot imagine not roaming back and forth between the Tundra and the Sea of Cortez, or the Prairies Potholes and the Gulf of Mexico as they please. Why not? After all, they have only been doing so since about the last time Wisconsin was buried under a glacier. However, by the early 1900s it was becoming clear that the U. S. and Canada (and later Mexico) had to work together to make sure there was both good breeding and good wintering habitat available for these birds or there would not be enough of them for anyone to hunt. In 1918, they signed The Migratory Bird Treaty, one of the first international wildlife treaties in the world, to insure they would work together in managing these wild species for the good of all. Then the droughts and agricultural practices which combined to create the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s began to devastate not only farmlands and domestic water supplies but wetlands and waterfowl production areas throughout much of North America as well. Not surprisingly, the wildlife that depended on these wetlands began to fail. The Great Depression was in full swing also, of course, consequently the economy and federal budgets, especially for things the general public did not think very important, (after all, ducks don’t pay taxes) were drying up as badly as the marshes. But J. N. Darling (better known as “Ding”) was the director of the Biological Service at the time and had an idea. You see, he was an artist. Usually he expressed this talent as a highly respected (and devastating) political cartoonist, but this time he designed a stamp that hunters could buy and fix to their state hunting license and money would go directly to the ducks. In 1934, Congress passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act into law. This required all hunters purchase a Federal license if they wanted to hunt waterfowl. Remarkably, it also required 98 cents of every dollar be used to directly finance acquisition of refuges and other habitat to benefit waterfowl. In spite of the damaged economy, the hunters agreed. They would do it for their ducks and the chance to keep hunting them. Since then Duck Stamp sales have raised over ½ billion dollars for wetland conservation and secured over 5 million acres of wildlife refuges and waterfowl areas. It also supports the world’s only federally mandated art competition!
The first Federal Duck Stamp, designed by "Ding" Darling.
Now, over 80 years later, we have learned that ducks are not the only thing that healthy wetlands produce. There are thousands of other species, great and small, beautiful and homely, common and rare, that depend on wetlands to survive.
Thanks in part to Duck Stamps, they are still here, too. We have learned that wetlands are critical to buffering floods, sequestering carbon, purifying our water, and recharging the aquifers from which we drink.
Thanks in part to Duck Stamps, they are still doing so. We have learned that the peace of wild places is as necessary to rest our souls as a good night’s sleep to rest our bodies. Thanks in part to Duck Stamps, we still have such places.
Buy a Duck Stamp for us all.
For more information about Duck Stamps and how to purchase them, go to the Duck Stamp page located at the official UFWS website located HERE
Kathleen Blair, Ph.D.
Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Bill Williams River NWR
60911 Highway 95
Parker, AZ 85344
Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling and the first duck stamp.