We just passed a significant milestone — the 80th anniversary of one of the most effective conservation programs in our country’s history, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp.
The proposal to require waterfowl hunters to buy a stamp every year was introduced in the House of Representatives in the early 1930s, after the go-go years of the 1920s, wanton sod- and swamp-busting, lenient bag limits, and much debate — and steadily declining numbers of waterfowl.
According to the proposal, 5 percent of proceeds would pay for production and distribution of the stamps, and 20 percent would fund law enforcement of any act protecting migratory birds, but the lion’s share — 75 percent — would be used for the acquisition, administration, maintenance, and development of areas suitable for waterfowl habitat.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act into law on March 16, 1934, skeptics predicted that the stamp would fail to raise $1 million a year (the equivalent of about $17 million a year in today’s dollars). But that threshold was surpassed in only five years, and today, 80 years down the road to recovery (and after a handful of changes to the distribution formula, price, and other improvements), we should all be proud that the stamp has provided more than $850 million.
Hunters make about 90 percent of the purchases. Stamp collectors, general conservationists, and we birdwatchers buy the balance. But all Americans benefit, since the money raised has gone directly toward the purchase of more than six million acres of wetland and grassland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.
My list of favorite birding places in Wisconsin includes two national wildlife refuges that were purchased with Duck Stamp proceeds: Horicon NWR and Necedah NWR. I’m sure your list of favorite places includes one or two that owe their existence to the stamp, too.
And that, my friends, is a fact worth celebrating. — Chuck Hagner, Editor
You can read more about the stamp on the website of the Friends of the Migratory Bird Stamp.