“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. Like winds and sunset, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.”-Aldo Leopold.
How profound this statement not only was, but is. Accounts from long ago pictured the skies and land teeming with an almost inexhaustible supply of wildlife. Waterfowl were described as flocks that would literally darken the skies, numbering into the hundreds of millions. Within a few decades, these numbers were decimated from market shooting to supply restaurants, unregulated sport hunting, and the feather collecting business for fashion.
Other culprits leading to reduced migratory bird numbers include devastating floods and droughts on nesting areas and rest sites that significantly stressed bird populations. Land development for the “benefit” of mankind has forced breeding pairs to find new places to live and reproduce. This concentrates populations making them much more vulnerable to predators as well. Thankfully, there were those with foresight and vision who made remarkable strides to reverse what could have been the extinction of our waterfowl resource.
In 1929, Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to authorize the acquisition and preservation of wetlands as waterfowl habitat. This act failed, however, to provide a source of revenue to purchase and preserve these wetlands. In 1934, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, also known as the Duck Stamp Act, and it was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Since this time, more than $800 million dollars has been generated to purchase and or protect more than five million acres of habitat that not only benefits our waterfowl population but a number of other species as well. This program is regarded as one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated.
Under this act, all waterfowl hunters under the age of 16 must annually purchase a Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp. The first stamp, 1934, cost one dollar. The price increased to two dollars in 1949, and currently the price of today’s waterfowl stamp is $25. Many state wildlife agencies have enacted their own state stamps with the revenue generated from the sale to be used for wetland preservation and restoration at a local level. This is the perfect example of sportsmen and sportswomen directly supporting wildlife habitat.
In addition to hunters supporting conservation efforts through duck stamp purchases, stamp collectors also help greatly with their support. Though most collectors prefer mint condition stamps, there is also a demand for autographed stamps, plate blocks, stamps signed by hunters, etc. On occasion, though rare, there are errors that occur either in the form of typos or printing malfunctions. Small flaws such as color variations, misplaced perforations, etc. are termed “freaks” rather than errors. There was a typo in one of the phone numbers on the back of the 2008-09 duck stamp. It would have been interesting if the number to report banded birds happened to be someone’s personal number. All errors and freaks are of importance to the collector and add a great deal of interest and sometimes value to the collection.
The first duck stamp was drawn by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. He did a pencil sketch of a pair of mallards landing in a marsh pond. The blue tinted stamp recorded a first year’s sale of 635,001 stamps. The first million mark of stamp sales occurred in 1938 and the two million mark was reached in 1946. Ironically, only around 1.5 million stamps are sold each year compared to 75 years ago. It would be interesting as to the reasons why sales have lagged.
Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the sponsoring agency for the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. The first contest was held in 1949 with 88 entries from 65 artists. Today, several thousand entries are submitted each year. A multitude of waterfowl species have been selected through the years as the “chosen” one. In 1959 a Labrador retriever was depicted on the stamp with a drake mallard in its mouth with the words “RETREIVERS SAVE GAME.” To my knowledge, this is the only stamp I know of without some waterfowl species illustrated as the main character.
As a youth, I couldn’t wait to see what duck would adorn the face of the stamp I would carry on my hunting excursions each season. I’ll admit, I was somewhat disappointed if the winner happened to be a merganser, or a ruddy duck, or perhaps some other “lowly” fish duck. Of course, as I matured I began to appreciate all of the candidates and winners, not just the prized mallard or pintail.
Over the years I have kept most of my stamps. Now that you can stick them on the back of a sportsman’s license, they are much easier to keep up with. The collection grows each year in my “treasure” box from the field. I encourage you to support our waterfowl conservation efforts by purchasing duck stamps, both federal and state. They make wonderful keepsakes and gifts, not to mention helping to ensure that generations to come will get to experience the quack of the mallard, the squeal of the wood duck, and the cackle of the specklebelly.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.