Ducks Unlimited 75th Anniversary
By Doug Leier
With all due respect to a few other short term bridges between college and my first real job, for all practical purposes Ducks Unlimited, private lands biologist, is still the first official business card bearing my information.
Memories of working out of Stanley, N.D. in the coteau region bring a smile to my face. I loved the people, job and landscape. I worked with private landowners to match them up with mutually beneficial conservation projects and programs.
When I landed that job nearly two decades ago I scraped together enough money to take my friends out and celebrate. At the time I didn’t really have the resources to afford it, but I also knew that sometimes in life you just need to acknowledge the accomplishment for the hurdles overcome.
That’s kind of what DU is doing this year, marking 75 years of work not just in North Dakota, but across North America. My time with DU was short, but the organization’s positive influence on the landscape continues.
Here’s a few highlights from the DU website at www.ducks.org.
1937 – Ducks Unlimited is incorporated in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 29.
Insurance and publishing mogul Joseph P. Knapp is the driving force behind the creation of “More Game Birds” and eventually “Ducks Unlimited,” though he was never an official board member or involved in day-to-day operations.
1967 – DU passes the 1.5million acre milestone.
1977 – DU celebrates its 40th anniversary and membership surpasses 250,000.
1984 – National president Peter Coors and vice president Eric W. Gustafson attended the dedication of North Dakota’s Lake Arena Project, the first completed by DU in the United States. Prior to that, DU had only worked on habitat projects in Canada. In addition, DU opened its Great Plains Regional Office in Bismarck, N.D.
1986 – The combined effects of wetland drainage and prairie drought devastated North America’s duck populations during the mid-1980s. In response to this crisis, government agencies and a variety of conservation partners drafted the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, signed in 1986, to restore waterfowl populations to healthy levels. DU secures MARSH agreements in all 50 states.
2008 – DU launches “Rescue the Duck Factory” campaign with a goal of raising $40 million to protect endangered native prairie in the Dakotas.
Dr. Jim Ringelman DU director of conservation programs at the Great Plains Regional Office in Bismarck, says about the future: “The real philosophical turning point for our program in the prairies was when moisture returned during the decade of the 1990s and we zoomed past our duck population goal around 1997 … that made us realize the prairie pothole region still had a tremendous capacity to attract and hold breeding ducks, and in the face of ongoing habitat destruction we had better first protect the wetlands and grasslands and ‘keep the table set’ for populations to rebound when conditions are good.”
The importance of grassland for all species, upland, waterfowl, big game and soil and water is priority for DU. “Our research is pointing more and more to the importance of wetlands to waterfowl production,” Ringelman said. “Grassland and adequate cover is very important but without water, you won’t produce the birds. We are becoming increasingly concerned about the loss of wetlands in North Dakota, along with the continuing loss of native prairie and CRP.
The past history is a legacy of conservation, but future challenges remain. Here’s hoping the next 75 years for Ducks Unlimited is as successful as the first 75.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org