Duck Hunters Cry ‘Fowl’ to Rally Ag for Conservation

Dale Hall spoke at the recent Trust in Food Conference. ( Portia Stewart )

Can you imagine lobbying Congress to be taxed? It sounds incredible, but that’s exactly what CEO Dale Hall said the original founders of Ducks Unlimited did to preserve waterfowl habitats more than 80 years ago. Hall wants us to celebrate the real conservation heroes in this country who partnered with agriculture to preserve 15 million acres in North America.

Hall spoke at the recent 2019 Trust in Food Symposium in Chicago.

If you own a Ducks Unlimited hat, pullover or fleece, you might wonder at the natural conflict that seems to exist in an organization that embraces conservation and the hunting culture, but Hall is here to tell you a conflict doesn’t exist.

He points to hunters and anglers whose licenses and registrations pay state fish and wildlife agencies to protect our public land. And it all began in 1934, during the Great Depression.

Duck, Duck, Tax

In 1934, it wasn’t that unusual for people to store their money in the floorboards of their house.

“Everything was really broken and the dust bowl was starting to happen,” Hall said.

“People said, ‘Well we’ve got to do something about this. Our habitat is literally blowing away.’ Duck hunters stood up and went to Congress and lobbied to be taxed. Now think about that. In the middle of the depression, duck hunters went to Congress to lobby to be taxed.”

Duck hunters saw the need for someone to pay to preserve our natural resources. The result is the migratory bird conservation water fowl stamp we know as the duck stamp. It was the first time any federal license was required to go hunting water fowl, and it cost $1.

“Think about what a dollar would do in 1934. Beans were four cents a pound. You could get a five-pound sack of flower for a dime,” Hall said. “People could feed themselves for a week for $1.”

But the call to preserve the land came first for many Americans. And that vision for preserving the land and the soil is still at the heart of Ducks Unlimited, which was founded just a few years later in 1937.

At a time when people were standing in line to get a cup of soup and piece of bread, when you couldn’t see Washington harbor or New York harbor for the dust storms, Ducks Unlimited set out to build an organization that worked with the land and worked with partners.

“And you’ve been our primary partner as we’ve gone forward,” Hall said to a room full of farmers and agricultural leaders.

Powerful Partnerships

Here’s a brief summary of Ducks Unlimited, by the numbers:

• Founded in 1937

• More than 700,000 members

• 2,600 chapters

• 56,000 active volunteers

• 500 employees

"At Ducks Unlimited, we love to go hunt, we love to put our brand on clothes and gear that people buy, but that’s not what we really do. We do wetland conservation,” Hall said. “We do that with partners. And guess who our No. 1 partners are? Agriculture. Thirty to 35% of all the habitat in the United State is in public ownership. That means 65 to 70% is in private ownership and agriculture is the primary owners of that habitat.”

Each Ducks Unlimited chapter is run by the community, and that means by farmers, mechanics, truck drivers, physicians and dentists. That’s basically anyone who shares a passion for preserving our natural resources.

“It’s not just about the ducks, it’s about the habitat. It’s about having clean water. It’s about having projects,” Hall said. “We do about 500 projects a year, on average, working on your lands. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says our work benefits 700 to 900 species.”

“How many people know that the 15 million acres of habitat could not be preserved without farmers and ranchers who have opened their gates to Ducks Unlimited?” Hall asked. 

Ducks Unlimited looks at nesting and migration patterns to find migratory staging areas.

Preserving wintering grounds is critical to help ducks build up the proteins they need for egg shell development and the fat they need to make the trip back home.

Ducks Unlimited projects extend across the United States. In Fiscal Year 2018, Ducks Unlimited impacted 328,000 acres and conserved another 277,858 acres with efforts that included conservation easements.

And at the heart of all of this conservation is an unwavering partnership with agriculture.  

“You grow crops and you grow cattle, or you grow pigs or chickens. You grow commodities for people to eat. That’s how you make your livelihood,” Hall said. “The result of what you do is also creating hundreds of thousands of acres of conserved habitat that you don’t even talk about. And we want you to talk about it. Because without you, it wouldn’t happen. No one else is stepping up. You’re the landowners and you’re the ones making it happen.”

Learn more about Trust in Food here.

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