It began in 1934. That's when our country experienced two particularly important national conservation efforts -- the creation of the Federal Duck Stamp and the rapid growth of National Wildlife Refuges into what could actually be called "a system." It is no accident that these two drives were to be found in tandem, united to make wetlands, refuges, and migrating birds more secure.
The first Federal Duck Stamp was designed in 1934 by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling (1876-1962), a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register. He served as chief of the U. S. Biological Survey (which merged with the Bureau of Fisheries in 1940 and became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) from 1934 to 1935. An enthusiastic conservationist, Ding Darling championed the idea of the Federal Duck Stamp Program, one of the most successful conservation programs ever devised.
The artwork on each Stamp is now decided each year through a national art contest. Hundreds of wildlife artists compete, and the winning design appears on the following year's stamp. No money is paid to the winner, but the artist benefits by the potential sale of thousands of dollars worth in limited edition prints of the original artwork, while continuing to promote awareness of the program -- a true depiction of "art in the service of conservation".
Many of the nation's most popular wildlife-watching and birding destinations are National Wildlife Refuges that have grown as a direct result of revenues collected through the Stamp. Examples of these refuges are Humbolt Bay and Sonny Bono Salton Sea in California, Nisqually and Conboy Lake in Washington, and Klamath Marsh and Malheur in Oregon.
In the 76 years since its creation, more than 119 million Federal Duck Stamps have been sold, collecting over $700 million for the acquisition of more than five million acres of wetland and grassland habitat for the Refuge System. In addition to waterfowl, numerous fish, amphibian, reptile, and mammal species have prospered on these lands as well. Among the non-game bird groups that have directly benefited from Stamp revenues are grebes, bitterns, rails, shorebirds, and terns, as well as raptors and many songbird species. Furthermore, an estimated one-third of this country's officially Endangered and Threatened species find food or shelter in National Wildlife Refuges established through the use of these Stamp funds.
In the past, hunters in America have been the primary buyers of Federal Duck Stamps, but this is changing. Now conservationists, birders, photographers and other nature-oriented groups are pitching in and purchasing Stamps as well.
What does all this have to do with Alaska, you might ask? Since 1934, 735,220 stamps have been sold here in our state, and those revenues have been added to the millions of dollars of funding available for crucial conservation efforts. Although the purchased lands themselves are not within Alaska, the benefits -- the many species of birds relying on those lands -- return each year to Alaska from wintering in or migrating through those very areas. Our millions of acres of wilderness and thousands of lakes, rivers and wetlands in Alaska and the lands purchased by the Stamp funding are all important components of the series of "flyways" utilized as resting places and breeding grounds by birds as they travel on their migration routes -- sometimes treks of tens of thousands of miles!
With refuge visitation nationwide at over 40 million people per year, it is important to appreciate that as we travel from Alaska to the "Lower 48", we can also get free admission to any National Wildlife Refuge in the country (that charge for entry) for the price of displaying our current $15 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (the official name of the Stamp since 1977). Free entry is available for the life of the Stamp, which is from July 1st to June 30th of the following year. Mark your calendars, this year the new stamp will be released on June 25, 2010, and you can join in by doing your part and purchasing this important miniature piece of art!
You can purchase your Federal Duck Stamp at the following locations:
* Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 1 Ski Hill Road, Soldotna;
* Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, 95 Sterling Highway, Homer;
* Your local Post Office; or
* Online at http://www.duckstamp.com, and http://www.usps.com.
For more information call Kenai Refuge at 907-262-7021, or visit http://kenai.fws.gov.
Janet Schmidt is the Supervisory Park Ranger for Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge Web site, http://kenai.fws.gov/.
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