Conservation leader Ducks Unlimited is 75 years old

LITTLE ROCK – Seventy-five years is a long time, except when you get on the uphill side of it. Seventy-five years is a milestone, and Ducks Unlimited is celebrating that event this year.

This leading international conservation organization was born in the dark days of the Great Depression, and it came about through the forward thinking of a number of people, one being President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Yes, DU has raised a lot of money over those 75 years and has done much good in securing and preserving wetlands that are so vital to waterfowl and birds and even mammals of many species in addition to ducks.

A benefit of the DU work over the years often is overlooked or not known at all.

Ducks Unlimited spurred Americans into thinking about conservation of wildlife. Thinking about it and doing something about it. Now there are many conservation organizations, big and small, and nearly all are productive or successful to some degree.

In Arkansas, dozens of projects large and small have come about through DU partnering with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and other entities. One example is Ed Gordon Point Remove Wildlife Management Area in Conway County, created in 1990 with AGFC, The Arkansas Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation. Arkansas Heritage Commission and others coming up with the matching money for federal funding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Before DU and the related events that created it in the 1930s, wildlife and forests were similar. Loggers cut them and moved on. A tree was cut down to make lumber to build things. Deer and ducks were shot to put food on tables. There was little effort to replace either trees or wildlife.

But things did change. In Arkansas, the deer restoration that has been so successful began in 1924.

At that time, some people were concerned about the declining duck numbers across the continent, but it took years for effective correction actions to come about. Tightened duck hunting regulations gradually evolved, like the outlawing of punt guns – floating small cannons, really. Then the use of live calling ducks was outlawed. Shotguns were limited to three shots. When electronic callers came forth, it took a while, but they were banned from duck hunting.

Today, there is debate over mechanical decoys, “mojos” to some folks. Spinning wing decoys is the formal term in Arkansas.

The critical factor in duck populations, however, is habitat more than hunting.

The birds need breeding grounds they can use, and they need wintering areas they can use. For the most part, the breeding grounds are in the upper Midwest and in the Canadian prairie provinces. Wintering areas are like the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas.

These two areas, especially the breeding grounds, is where Ducks Unlimited has made a solid mark.

In the early part of the last century, wildlife conservation was slowly taking form, and one organization was the Boone & Crockett Club, today best known for its record keeping in deer and elk hunting. Two men were leaders of Boone & Crockett back then – an Iowa newspaper cartoonist named Jay “Ding” Darling and a Wisconsin forester and ecologist named Aldo Leopold.

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Darling and Leopold, to a committee with Thomas Beck, a publisher, to assess the dismal state of migratory birds and to recommend actions. Together they proposed the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, which soon became law. The act provided that funds from sales of federal duck stamps would be used to acquire land for the National Wildlife Refuge System, established earlier by B&C founder Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1935, the eventual founders of DU, through an entity they created in 1930 called the More Game Birds in America Foundation, sponsored the International Wild Duck Census, the first comprehensive aerial survey of North America's most important waterfowl breeding grounds. This survey confirmed the importance of duck habitat conservation in Canada. However, federal duck stamp monies couldn't be used outside U.S. borders.

In 1937, DU was launched for the purpose of raising funds in the United States to secure lands in Canada. A second entity, DU Canada, was established to deliver that mission.

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