Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Continuing a 100 Year Legacy

Who doesn’t love a birthday party, especially one celebrating 100 years of existence? Kansans, in particular, are primed for this special blowout since we  live in the Central Flyway. As a result, we directly benefit from the centennial of the Migratory Bird and Treaty Act and its later companion, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (aka the Duck Stamp Act). In general, waterfowl hunters and birders profit most, but every Sunflower State resident can appreciate migrant birds winging across our skies or landing on nearby waterways and refuges.

In a century, hunters and other conservation efforts have protected and managed migratory species so that we expect to see cranes, geese, ducks, and other transient waterfowl. That wasn’t always so. Because so many market hunters decimated populations to sell either meat or feathers, populations suffered. According to one source, “As many as 15,000 canvasbacks were shot in a single day on Chesapeake Bay during the 1870s.” 

When concerned hunters noted declining numbers, they contacted legislators. In response, Congress passed the Lacey Act (1900) and the Weeks Maclean Act (1913) that prevented transportation of illegally taken game across state lines, spring waterfowl hunting, and migratory game bird marketing. Soon after, the Migratory Birds and Treaty Act (1916) strengthened initial efforts.

Unfortunately, lack of funding made it difficult to enforce these laws and support President Theodore Roosevelt’s refuge system. Some might consider it ironic that hunters stepped in to meet this need. I ask who better to identify this concern?

To complicate matters, waterfowl populations declined from 100 million to 20 million during the DustBowl drought years. Franklin Roosevelt sought solutions from the Beck Commission. Their response was to conserve more habitat. Unfortunately, inadequate finances left planners with empty coffers.

Ducks Unlimited explains that FDR appointee Jay Darling was an avid duck hunter and a conservation-minded editorial cartoonist. As head of the Bureau of Biological Surveys (eventually the US Fish and Wildlife Service), Darling supported and designed the first Federal Duck Stamp in 1934. It depicted a pair of mallards. Initially, that stamp cost each hunter $1.00. Like most expenses, this one has increased. The 2016 edition sells for $25.00. Fortunately, 98% of that fee directly supports habitat development. Since the program’s initiation, sales exceed 700 million dollars. According to the Federal Wildlife Service, the result is more than 5.7 million acres of conserved habitat.

Not only has does this act support waterfowl conservation and management, it also encourages wildlife art. Artists compete annually to display their efforts on this collectible stamp. Depictions include Darling’s first two mallards to mergansers, wood ducks, Canada geese, and now trumpeter swans.

Thank goodness, hunters protected this resource and funded habitat development. However, you don’t have to hunt to enjoy the results. You can view waterfowl at any of our state refuges and lakes. Collectors can haunt auctions and antique shops in search of stamps, decoys, and other ephemera. Photographers can combine Kansas sunrises and sunsets to perfect shots of transient visitors. Gourmets can explore endless recipes for delicious goose or duck dinners. Only lack of imagination limits possibilities.

That said, non-hunters as well hunters can support migratory bird populations by buying a Federal Duck Stamp online, at the post office, or local sporting good outlet. In a little over a 100 hundred years, responsible hunters/conservationists have made sure these species continue to thrive.

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