Can you imagine lobbying Congress to be taxed? That’s exactly what CEO Dale Hall said the original founders of Ducks Unlimited did to preserve waterfowl habitats. Hall wants us to celebrate the real conservation heroes who partnered with agriculture to preserve 15 million acres in North America.
It all began in 1934, during the Great Depression and the start of the Dust Bowl.
“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,” Hall says.
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 hunt water fowl, and it cost $1.
“Think about what a dollar would do in 1934. Beans were 4¢ a pound. You could get a 5-lb. sack of flower for a dime,” Hall said. “People could feed themselves for a week for $1.”
But the call to preserve the land and soil came first for many Americans. And that vision is still at the heart of Ducks Unlimited, which was founded several years later in 1937.
At a time when people stood in line to get a cup of soup and bread, when you couldn’t see Washington harbor or New York harbor for the dust storms, Ducks Unlimited set out to build an org that worked with the land and 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 at the 2019 Trust In Food Symposium in Chicago.
“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 U.S. 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—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 explained. “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.”
In fiscal year 2018, Ducks Unlimited impacted 328,000 acres and conserved another 277,858 with efforts that included conservation easements.
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.”
Ducks Unlimited By The Numbers
- Founded in 1937.
- More than 700,000 members.
- 2,600 chapters.
- 56,000 active volunteers.
- 500 employees.