Feb 20, 2013

Duck Stamps: Not Just About Hunting, or Ducks

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"While duck numbers in the United States are the highest in decades, duck hunting is down, possibly bad news for conservation efforts, environmentalists say. The decrease in the number of hunters isn't necessarily good news for ducks, researchers write in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, because the loss of revenue from 'duck stamps' -- the federal license needed to hunt -- could result in millions of lost dollars for vital conservation work."

That was the lead in a wire-service article that appeared in newspapers and online news sites earlier this month, containing a rather ominous message that should resonate not only with an estimated 1.2 million or so American waterfowl hunters, but especially with the 50-plus million Americans who feed birds, watch birds, study birds and love birds.

Since 1934, sales of Federal Duck Stamps have generated more than $750 million, which has been used to purchase or lease over 6 million acres of wetlands habitat in the United States. Those lands are protected as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge System.

Hunters are required by law to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp (presently costing $15) each year to hunt migratory waterfowl, in addition to obtaining necessary state licenses and permits.

While there is evidence that some non-hunters - like birders and other wildlife watchers - purchase Duck Stamps each year, there is no definitive way to track the number of those who do.

Frankly, every birder who enters a National Wildlife Refuge to engage in his or her favorite pastime at least once a year should consider purchasing a Duck Stamp annually, for the simple reason that 98% of the money goes directly to conservation, to support the NWR system and purchase additional land. Further, a Duck Stamp also serves as an entrance pass for national wildlife refuges where admission is charged. So, if you go to multiple refuges each year, it's not only good conservation sense, it's also a bargain.

For the 2011-12 fiscal year (the most recent year figures are available), a total of 1,517,647 Federal Duck Stamps were sold.

That number should serve as a serious wake-up call for all birders and wildlife watchers who appreciate our federal wetlands, where some of the best - and most numerous - bird sightings take place.

Rachel F. Levin, Communications Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, told The Birding Wire this week she believes a growing number of birders are realizing a Federal Duck Stamp is not only an important investment in American Conservation, but a vital one.

"We have anecdotal evidence that birders are realizing the value of Duck Stamps to conservation of habitat on national wildlife refuges that benefits more than just waterfowl, however, we have no statistics on this and no way to gather such stats," she said.

So, Birding Wire readers, if you aren't already carrying a 2012-13 Federal Duck Stamp in your wallet, purse or in you vehicle glove box (that's where mine is), we challenge you to go online(www.duckstamp.com), to your nearest U.S. Post Office or National Wildlife Refuge and do it this week.

Not only waterfowl benefit from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps. Numerous songbird, marshbird, shorebird, raptor, mammal, fish, reptile and amphibian species that rely on wetlands are prosper. Further, an estimated one-third of the nation's endangered and threatened species find food or shelter in refuges established using Federal Duck Stamp funds.

If 25 percent of the country's estimated 50 million birders purchase a $15 Duck Stamp, it would generate a cool $188 million toward one of the best conservation programs ever established.

- J.R. Absher
Editor, The Birding Wire

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