At $15, a "duck stamp" is arguably the best investment a conservationist can make. More formally called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, the program was created in 1934. Hunters lobbied for this "tax" on themselves to ensure that waterfowl would forever fill the skies. A supplement to a state hunting license, a duck stamp is a federal license to hunt migratory waterfowl.
Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar goes to the National Wildlife Refuge System to buy or lease wetland habitat. That's $14.70 from every stamp that goes directly to conservation. Since 1934, duck stamps have raised more than $800 million to protect and manage more than 6 million acres of wetlands.
And what's good for ducks and geese is also good for common yellowthroats, marsh wrens, great blue herons, frogs, turtles, snakes, beaver, muskrats, mink and myriad fish, butterflies, dragonflies and invertebrates. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that one-third of the nation's endangered and threatened species are found on National Wildlife Refuges, which benefit from duck stamp dollars.
On Aug. 1 the state Game Commission released 2013-14 migratory bird hunting seasons, based on federal guidelines that fluctuate with North American populations. Seasons and bag limits will increase for some species.
Though duck hunters are required to buy a duck stamp every year, every birder, wildlife watcher, hiker and nature photographer should buy one voluntarily to support wetland conservation. Duck stamps also act as a pass into refuges that charge an admission fee. Visit two or three refuges during a year, and the stamp pays for itself. And each duck stamp is a miniature work of collectible art. Duck stamps are a simple way to give a little back to nature.
Furthermore, wetlands provide much more than wildlife habitat. Wetlands purify water supplies, store flood waters, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and provide spawning areas for many fish.
The 2013-14 duck stamp features a beautiful male common goldeneye. It can be purchased at larger post offices, some outdoors stores or online at www.duckstamp.com. Junior Duck Stamps ($5) can also be purchased at these locations. Proceeds from Junior Duck Stamps support conservation education programs, so they're great for students, parents and educators as well as hunters and birders.
To see images of all the duck stamps dating back to 1934, visit www.fws.gov/duckstamps/federal/stamps/fedimages.htm.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.