The Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated. Since 1934 millions of Duck Stamp dollars have contributed to preserving over 4 million acres of wetland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
As early as 1913, Congress recognized the importance of waterfowl management and protection with the enactment of the Weeks-McLean Law. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed and protection from commercial exploitation was afforded to both migratory waterfowl and other species of birds.
By the Late 1920's, the waterfowl situation became critical and the descendants of the
early explorers and settlers realized that urgent action was required to remedy the
problem. A very significant step was taken when the U.S. Congress enacted teh Migratory
Bird Conservation Act of 1929. The law expanded the existing National Wildlife Refuge
System established iin 1903 and provided authorization for the acquistion of wetlands for
waterfowl habitat. However, the law was only a stopgap measure, for it made no provision
for the procurement of funds with which to purchase the land.
J.N. "Ding" Darling, a nationally known political cartoonist, led a drive by
conservationists to remedy the funding problem. Darling, who was keenly interested in
hunting and wildlife, watched in dismay as the waterfowl habitat in his own state was
drastically reduced. Darling put his own artistic talents to use and frequently published
biting cartoons depicting the destruction of this nation's waterfowl and its habitat.
Undoubtedly, however, Darling's most significant contribution was the concept of a
Federal revenue stamp to generate the necessary funds for the acquisition of waterfowl
habitat. His idea became reality on March 16, 1934, when Congress passed the Migratory
Bird Hunting Stamp Act which required every waterfowl hunter 16 years of age and over to
annually purchase and carry a Federal Duck Stamp. Proceeds from the sale of Duck Stamps
were earmarked to buy and lease waterfowl habitat.
It seemed only fitting to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Darling be commissioned
to design the first Federal Duck Stamp. Roosevelt had previously appointed Darling as
Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, predecessor of the present U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. Darling produced a small pencil sketch of a pair of mallards coming in
over a marsh pond. In August 1934, the Duck Stamps went on sale and a total of 635,001
were sold at one dollar each.
The price of Duck Stamps has increased over the years with the decreasing availability
of wetlands. Waterfowl habitats which once sold for as little as $1 an acre now cost 1,000
times that price. By 1993, a collector who had purchased each of the 60 stamps at the
issue price would have spent a total of $249. This investment would presently be worth
over $4,000! That percentage increase has turned many stamp buyers into avid collectors.
All stamps not sold are destroyed 3 years after issue, thus preserving the value of the
stamps purchased by the collectors.
Most of the annual stamps depict waterfowl in their natural environment. Until 1949,
nationally recognized wildlife artists were commissioned annually to produce a Duck Stamp
Design. However, since that year, an annual Duck Stamp design is chosen by a panel of
waterfowl and art experts. This is the only annual art competition sponsored by the
Federal Government, and the number of annual entries varies between 400 and 1,000!
Any artist can enter the contest by submitting a 10 x 7 inch waterfowl design and paying an entry fee. The winner receives a pane of stamps bearing his or her design and maintains the right to sell prints of the winning artwork which are eagerly sought by collectors.
The Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever
initiated. Over 98 cents out of every Duck Stamp dollar goes
directly into a fund used solely to acquire wetlands for North American waterfowl.
These lands become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and also benefit many other
species of plants and animals.
The focus of the program has changed over the decades. The goal in recent years has
been to preserve key wintering and breeding habitats in each of the four major north-south
migratory waterfowl flyways, particularly those most threatened by development. Efforts
are also underway to save areas needed by species whose numbers are low or declining, such
as the following ducks: mallards, black ducks, canvasbacks, cackling Canada geese, Pacific
brants, Pacific white-fronted geese, redheads, pintails, and wood ducks.
The Duck Stamp Program also aids wildlife other than waterfowl. One-third of the
nation's endangered or threatened species finds food and shelter in wetlands conserved
under the program. Coastal wetlands also provide spawning and nursery habitat for our
nation's fishery resources.
In addition to providing valuable fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands help to maintain
groundwater supplies and water quality, protect shorelines from erosion, store
floodwaters, trap sediments that can pollute waterways, and modify climatic changes.
Possession of the most recent Federal Duck Stamp (must be signed in ink across it's
face) provides free admission to all National Wildlife Refuges where entrance fees are
charged. It is also one way to support the goals of The North American Waterfowl
Management Plan, a historic 1986 agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico
which sets forth a course of action for these countries to take in order to ensure the
continued survival of abundant populations of ducks, geese, and swans.
The success of the Federal Duck Stamp Program and the North American Plan requires the
continued strong committment, creativity, and hard work by the Federal governments of
these three nations, state and local governments, private organizations, businesses, and
The purchase of a Federal Duck Stamp provides an opportunity for every citizen to make a small investment in an enormous endeavor--the preservation of our natural heritage!
Text courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service