More Than Just A Stamp

Every summer, hunters, birders, conservationists and stamp collectors celebrate when the new edition of Federal Duck Stamps go on sale. Originally called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, it was initially little more than a convenient way to put a federal tax on waterfowl hunters. It still is, but it’s more.

Now simply called the Duck Stamp, these stamps continue to be one of the waterfowl hunting license requirements for America’s duck and goose hunters but they’ve become much more. They’ve become collectible works of art and the easiest way for anyone to support bird habitat conservation with 98 percent of the proceeds going to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.

Though it’s long before any waterfowl seasons are open - teal and Canada goose season in this area won’t start until September - the stamps are on sale now. They can be purchased at most U.S. Post Offices, many places that sell state hunting licenses and on-line. With the start of this year's stamp sales, let me highlight some of the cool things about the Duck Stamp.

1. The Federal Duck Stamp is one of the oldest conservation efforts. The Duck Stamp was born in the dust bowl days when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act in 1934 to protect wetlands that are vital to the survival of migratory waterfowl.

2. Many of those wetlands are still producing America’s ducks and geese and the effort continues. Those same wetlands also benefit countless other non-waterfowl species and us. Since that first stamp, sales have raised more than $950 million to help clean water, aid in flood control, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, funded much of the nation’s National Wildife Refuge system and enhanced outdoor recreation opportunities.

3. Waterfowl hunters have fueled the Duck Stamp effort. Hunters have always played an integral part in conserving America's natural resources, and the Duck Stamp is a great example. Many sportsmen buy more than one Duck Stamp a year, helping to protect or restore nearly 6 million acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife.

4. The Duck Stamp has become a collector's item. Every year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service holds an art contest to select the stamp design, making these stamps miniature works of art and a treasured item to stamp collectors around the world. With an over 80-year history, the Duck Stamp is the longest-running single themed U.S. stamp, adding to their collectibility. There is also a Junior Duck Stamp art contest that draws some of the nation's best young waterfowl artists.

5. The first Duck Stamp was a sketch designed by J.N. "Ding" Darling, the director of the Bureau of Biological Survey (forerunner to today's U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service). In 1949, the first art contest for the Duck Stamp was held the contest is now an annual competition open to any U.S. artist over the age of 18 years. One family has collectively won the Duck Stamp art contest 12 times. Since 1990, the Hautman brothers -- James, Joseph and Robert -- have won 12 contests. Joseph and James, the current winner, have five wins each, tying for the most wins by an individual ever.

6. The “official” prize for winning the contest is little more than a certificate suitable for framing and prestige since there’s no prize money awarded. It’s been said, however, the winning the entry is worth a million dollars to the artist. They retain ownership of the original painting and profit from selling reprints.

7. Duck Stamps are good for recreation. A current year Federal Duck Stamp is a free pass into any national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee. The result: Birders, nature photographers and other outdoor enthusiasts buy Duck Stamps to help ensure they can always see wildlife at their favorite outdoors spots. Since in recent years the stamp has become popular with birders and non-hunter conservationists, the subject of the stamp can now features a non-waterfowl migratory bird to highlight citizen conservation actions. The current stamp features three flying Canada geese.