Gerald Almy: Duck stamp reaches milestone

Many people casually buy a “Duck Stamp” when they plan to go hunting for waterfowl, but few of them probably realize how incredibly important this conservation program has been to the healthy duck and goose populations we now enjoy across the United States and Canada.

And there’s a good reason now to take a moment to reflect on this program’s value. The reason? The Duck Stamp is celebrating its 80th Birthday! On August 22, 1934, the first duck stamp was sold. Since that time the sales of each year’s stamps have collectively generated over $800 million for conservation and helped preserve and protect over six million acres of wetland habitat.

“Duck stamps were one of the key funding mechanisms that brought many waterfowl species from vanishing to flourishing,” says Keith Balfourd, of the Boone & Crockett Club. The Club’s members played a strong role in promoting and establishing the duck stamp, and its members also formed the American Wild Fowlers group, an organization that later became Ducks Unlimited.

Early in the 20th century, waterfowl were under heavy pressure from unregulated market hunting, water diversions, draining of wetlands and other habitat destruction. Seeing their plight, Boone & Crockett Club members went to work.

In 1904, club member and Pennsylvania Congressman George Shiras began a long crusade to place migratory birds under federal jurisdiction. With help from the newly formed Ducks Unlimited offshoot, B&C members pressed for the passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929. This important conservation milestone established the federal refuge system that we all know and enjoy today, which provides habitat for millions of waterfowl and other birds and animals.

Finally, in 1934, a major source of funding for waterfowl preservation became available with the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. This was pushed through Congress by a determined Connecticut Senator, Frederic Walcott, also a B&C Club member.

The first duck stamp was illustrated by yet another B&C Club member, a Nobel Prize winning political cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling. The first stamp was sold on Aug. 22 for $1. Amazingly, 635,000 stamps were purchased that first year.

Within five years annual sales topped $1 million (equal to about $17 million in today’s dollars). The benefits to waterfowl have continued to grow ever since.

So next time you pull out your wallet for the “duck stamp” required to hunt waterfowl, do so with a smile and reflect on how important this program has been to conservation and wildlife in America. Few programs have matched it for success and impact.

Last year’s stamp featured artist Adam Grimm’s oil painting of canvasbacks bathed in beautiful golden morning sunlight. The contest to select this year’s art work for the stamp was held on Sept. 19 and 20 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Eligible species included the brant, Canada goose, northern shoveler, red breasted merganser and ruddy duck. The winner was Jennifer Miller, of Olean, New York, who entered a stunning acrylic painting of ruddy ducks with mountains in the background.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.