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Nature Watch: How Duck Stamps Save Birds

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Want to know an easy way to help with vital land conservation? Stop by your local post office, or go online , and buy this year’s federal Duck Stamp. It’s one of the country’s most cost-effective conservation tools. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar you spend on these stamps goes toward buying or leasing wetland habitat. Since the program began in 1934, proceeds from Duck Stamp sales have brought more than 6 million acres under federal protection.

A Duck Stamp costs $15 and is a required purchase for anyone over 16 who hunts migratory waterfowl. For birders or hikers, stamp sales help preserve open space and give you an entrance pass to wildlife refuges where admission is normally charged. These beautiful stamps are collector’s items, too. They’re not meant for mailing letters. Instead, they’re your contribution to conservation.

“Conservation,” you say? “When those hunters are shooting birds?”

Yes, conservation, because the federal program does so much for wetlands – preserving habitat in an age when money from other sources is short. Duck Stamps save birds. It’s estimated that one-third of the nation’s endangered and threatened species find food or shelter in refuges that were established using Duck Stamp funds .

Duck Stamps grew from pacts made between hunters and conservationists (especially the National Audubon Society) nearly 100 years ago. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 created hunting seasons and put limits on the number of birds that hunters could take – saving some species from extinction. The Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 authorized the purchase of land to provide habitat where birds could thrive. But funds became unavailable when the Great Depression hit. So, in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, which raised money for wetlands by requiring hunters to purchase a stamp.

The art of the Duck Stamp has been important right from the start. Acclaimed artist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling created the first one. Ever since, there has been an annual competition to produce a new image. In 1989, the program added a $5 Junior Duck Stamp, choosing an image made by artists under 18. Funds from the junior program are used to run environmental education programs across the country. For more information about the adult contest, call 703-358-1784; for the junior contest, call 703-358-2405.

Wetlands do more than provide recreational benefits. They help purify drinking water supplies, hold back floodwaters, reduce soil erosion and provide spawning grounds for important sport and commercial fish. Your Duck Stamp purchase – be it this year’s stamp or a collection from prior years – is money well spent.

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