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Federal Duck Stamp Program

Once North America teemed with wild ducks, geese, swans, brants and other water birds. However, the expanding U.S. population has meant trouble for waterfowl and other wildlife. People have leveled forests, plowed prairies, dammed rivers, and drained wetlands to make way for houses, factories, roads, farms and shopping centers. Millions of acres of habitat have been lost. The decline of waterfowl was accentuated during the 1800’s and early 1900’s by overeager hunters and a commercial demand for meat and feathers. Market hunters decimated flocks, and some species were so reduced in numbers as to be in danger of extinction. Compounding these problems, periodic drought dried up the prairie potholes, northern bogs and southern swamps. The “dust bowl” of the 1930’s, in particular, left many lush wetlands dry and lifeless.

By the late 1920’s American conservationists, hunters, and government officials had become alarmed at the prospect of losing waterfowl species. The first positive step towards preventing that was passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act in 1929. The Act authorized the Department of Agriculture to acquire and preserve wetlands as waterfowl habitat. The law also established a commission of Federal and State officials to evaluate land for possible acquisition. However, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 provided no permanent source of money with which to buy and preserve this land. That error was corrected by Jay N. Darling, a nationally known political cartoonist, noted hunter, and wildlife conservationist. “Ding” Darling often put his artistic talents into biting cartoons depicting the destruction of the nation’s waterfowl and their habitats.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Darling in 1934 as chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, a predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Darling was instrumental in the conception and development of a stamp to be bought by all waterfowl hunters that would generate funds to pay for acquiring and preserving habitat for ducks, geese and swans.

Ding Darling On March 16, 1934, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. Popularly known as the Duck Stamp Act, it required all waterfowl hunters 16 years or older to buy a stamp annually. The revenue generated was earmarked for the Department of the Agriculture, and then five years later transferred the authority to the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to buy or lease waterfowl sanctuaries.

The first Federal Duck Stamp was designed by “Ding” Darling at President Roosevelt’s request. The stamp depicts two mallards about to land on a marsh pond. In subsequent years, noted wildlife artists were asked to submit designs. The first contest was opened in 1949 to any U.S. artist who wished to enter. To select each year’s design, a panel of noted art, waterfowl, and philatelic authorities are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Winners receive no compensation for the work, except a pane of their stamps. The winning artist may sell prints of their designs, which are eagerly sought by hunters, conservationists, and art collectors.

The Federal Duck Stamp Program has become one of the most popular and successful conservation programs ever initiated. Federal Duck Stamps have generated close to $1 billion in funds used to preserve over 5 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the United States. Many of the more than 540 national wildlife refuges have been paid for all or in part by Duck Stamp money.

The Federal duck stamps website:

2013 Federal Common Goldeneye
by Robert Steiner
315 Cornwall Street, San Francisco, CA 94118 (415) 387-9754, (800) 225-3971, Fax (415) 387-0366
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