July is the traditional time of year in the United States to purchase the new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, better known as the Duck Stamp. These non-postage stamps serve dual duty as both migratory waterfowl hunting licenses and entrance passes for National Wildlife Refuges where admission is normally charged.
If you’ve never heard of the Duck Stamp before, you might wonder why U.S. birders, even the ones who don’t eat, let alone shoot ducks, purchase these stamps in droves. The core reason is conservation: according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. That’s some serious set-asides. The official literature states that since 1934, the sales of Federal Duck Stamps have generated more than $700 million, which has been used to help purchase or lease over 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.
So why won’t I be buying a Duck Stamp?
No one can argue that $700 million towards wetland conservation isn’t a fabulous feat of public philanthropy. These protected lands benefit entire ecosystems of organisms, not just ducks and geese. Further, if you live in proximity to refuges that charge admission, that $15 fee seems seriously economical. My problem with the Duck Stamp program lies in how birders and other outdoor enthusiasts are lumped in with hunters. It’s easy for the government to acknowledge that birders are important consumers of the Duck Stamp and contributors to conservation. In fact, on the USFWS page for Duck Stamp constituents specifically addressed to birders, they say:
Refuge visitation is now approaching 40 million people per year, and according to recent USFWS figures, more than 80 percent of these visitors engage in wildlife watching, specifically birds. Just as importantly, these visitors are part of the millions of Americans increasingly interested in wild birds and birding.
Yet, when it comes time to draft important conservation legislation or plan the creation a 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps, we non-extractive wildlife enthusiasts are forgotten in favor of the hook and bullet club. Apparently, when it comes time to calculate the financial contributions of the different sectors of outdoor enthusiasts, only hunters and anglers put up worthwhile cash, in part through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
The Duck Stamp is a hunting license. It seems to me that hunters are credited for the funds flowing from the sale of said stamp despite the major push among American birders to purchase it for conservation. Maybe the birds really are what matter and my partisan interests nothing but petty griping. Maybe proponents of the Duck Stamp can explain to me (in the comments please!) how the interests of birders are so intimately intertwined with those of hunters that their lobbyists can completely represent us in the corridors of power. I can’t help but think we as a group are, through our wholesale support of the Duck Stamp instead of pursuing a more appropriate refuge access pass, squandering possibly our best opportunity to establish the financial contributions American birders and wildlife watchers make to conservation.
Plus, this year’s stamp includes a Long-tailed Duck next to a hunting decoy. Not only is that in poor taste for a program that alleges to represent the more peaceful parties in wildfowl conservation, but I see enough oldsquaw hunting around here without being reminded of it on my refuge pass!