Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

It’s a little piece of wildlife art that makes a big difference for waterfowl

Duck stamp sales have been protecting migratory birds habitat since 1934
Kevin Woster
Duck stamp sales have been protecting migratory birds habitat since 1934

You could argue, I suppose, that I didn’t get my money’s worth from my duck stamp this year.

You could argue that, but you’d be wrong.

Sure, I only hunted ducks once. And I purchased the 2022-2023 federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (most of us duck hunters call it the duck stamp) for $25, along with a $5 state migratory bird certification, a couple days before my only duck hunt of the season.

I figured before I went that I was unlikely to shoot a duck. The conditions were all wrong. And I knew it would be my only duck hunt of the High Plains duck season, which closed in mid-January.

From a penny pinching standpoint, I might as well have gone and sat near my decoys without a gun, and saved the money for the stamp. Except for a couple of things:

  1. I wanted a chance to shoot a duck. And I wanted the anticipation and excitement that comes with knowing you have a chance to shoot a duck, even if it’s a slim chance.
  2. I wanted to buy the stamp and the certification anyway, ducks or no ducks.

That second reason is the most important. Money for the state waterfowl certification goes to wildlife programs within the state Game, Fish & Parks Department. Money spent by sportsmen and sportswomen for hunting and fishing licenses is essential in properly managing our state’s wildlife resources.

Eight nine years of protecting habitat for migratory birds

Then there’s the federal duck stamp, which you add to the state small game license you purchase to hunt pheasants and other game. Oh, how important that duck stamp is and how important it has been for years — 89 of them to be exact.

The duck stamp came out of the Dust Bowl years, when creeks shriveled, lakes and marshes dried up and waterfowl suffered along with other wildlife. Congress took action and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act in 1934 with the stated goal of protecting wetlands crucial to migratory waterfowl.

It has done just that across North America. It has also promoted and inspired waterfowl art.

The art for the first federal duck stamp came from the pen of Jay N. “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist with the Des Moines Register. His etching, called Mallards Dropping In, was of a mallard hen and drake with wings set and feet down as they come in to land on the open water of a marsh.

That duck stamp and those to follow each year would be required of all waterfowl hunters 16 and over. The stamp program would put a tiny piece of wildlife art in the pockets and billfolds and hunting vests of hunters across the nation. It would also come to make the art careers of artists who won the contest.

Since it was created in 1934, proceeds from duck stamp sales have topped $1 billion and helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect 6 million acres of land essential to waterfowl and other wildlife.

Ninety-eight cents of every dollar spent on duck stamps goes for the outright purchase of land or for conservation easements to protect migratory bird habitat. That has included the creation or expansion of federal waterfowl refuges and waterfowl production areas.

So hunters obviously benefit. But so do non-hunters who care about the environment in general and migratory waterfowl in particular.

And it’s not just the ducks and geese, either

That’s because migratory waterfowl are all kinds of birds, not just ducks and geese but also egrets and cranes and gallinules and swans and, well, it’s a very long list. A very long and wonderful list.

Beyond that, of course, there are the benefits that come with protecting wetlands that hold and filter water, reduce flooding and provide habitat for upland birds, deer and other wildlife.

Wetlands like this one are among those benefitting from duck stamp revenues
Kevin Woster
Wetlands like this one are among those benefitting from duck stamp revenues

And, of course, there’s the impact on outdoor art. The Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest is a road to fame for talented artists who happen to win it and even for some who merely compete. The contest also results in some amazing waterfowl art, with the top entries in the contest going on tour each year across the nation.

It’s worth noting, too, that there’s a Junior Duck Stamp program, too. It began in 1989 and had its first Junior Duck Stamp in 1993. The junior program attracts entries from young, aspiring wildlife artists, and also raises money through sales of the $5 stamp for wildlife conservation education and the support of young wildlife artists.

I got to be one of the judges in an area competition for the Junior Duck Stamp Contest some years back over in Spearfish. I don’t think I was a very good judge. I tended to like things about the artwork that spoke, perhaps, more to my heart and my duck-hunting experiences than they did to overall quality of the art.

But I enjoyed being one of the judges. And I think the others made up for my desultory approach to judging. The lunch and companionship, over in the pavilion at the Spearfish City Park, was good, too.

And speaking of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest, South Dakota is home to a couple of winners in the duck stamp contest and junior contest. And, imagine this, they’re in the same family. What are the chances of that?

Madison Grimm of Wallace, a small town near Watertown in the wonderful waterfowl country of northeast South Dakota, was just 15 when she won the junior contest for the third time last year. Her dad, transplanted Ohio artist Adam Grimm, has won the Federal Duck Stamp contest twice.

You don’t need the junior stamp to hunt. But it helps the overall cause of conservation and the youth wildlife art work. I’ve been neglecting to buy the junior stamp for years. But I’ll be adding it to my purchases from now on.

And, of course, I’ll continue to purchase the regular duck stamps, no matter how often I actually hunt ducks.

Because it’s always worth your money to help protect crucial habitat for migratory waterfowl across the continent, while at the same time giving wildlife art a boost.

Who could seriously argue with that?

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.