Consider the following quotes, taken from Martin J. Smith’s book The Wild Duck Chase, which covers the history of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest:
- “The biggest challenge facing the [Duck Stamp] program today: Unless it can convince birders and other non-hunters that buying duck stamps is the best way to conserve wetlands and the other wildlife habitats they treasure, the burden of doing so will continue to fall on the dwindling number of hunters and stamp collectors who traditionally support the program.”
- Amy K. Hooper, editor of WildBird magazine is not optimistic about birders or non-hunters embracing the Duck Stamp as hunters have. She says, “there’s just a cultural bias against anything related to hunting.”
- “For many hunters, the traditional paper stamp is more than just a receipt for a tax paid, it is a badge of honor, a symbol of the hunter’s respect for the natural resources they are privileged to use … duck hunters are proud of their sport, proud of their heritage, and proud of their Duck Stamp Program.” (emphasis is the author’s)
These quotes summarize the challenges facing the current Duck Stamp program: reduced financial support; cultural differences between hunters and non-extractive users; and, a strong association with Duck Stamps as a traditional financial resource for hunters.
These statements also indirectly point to a viable solution, which is a separate Wildlife Conservation Pass. Not only would such a pass help overcome revenue shortfalls in the National Wildlife Refuge System, it could erase the cultural obstacles cited by Jackson.
A newly designed and dedicated Wildlife Conservation Pass would also instill a source of community pride and involvement for birders and wildlife watchers, just as the Duck Stamp does for hunters. Wildlife watchers and birders share a passionate commitment to wildlife, but they often diverge from hunters on which habitat, resources and Refuge priorities should be funded and emphasized.
The concerns tend to fall into the following categories:
- Duck Stamp purchases by non-hunters, no matter where they are purchased are not accurately accounted for — which means that when critical decisions are made about Refuge priorities, non-extractive users are forgotten in favor of hunters and anglers. As Mike Bergin wrote at the 10,000 Birds blog, “Apparently, when it comes time to calculate the financial contributions of the different sectors of outdoor enthusiasts, only hunters and anglers put up worthwhile cash, in part through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.”
- Because of this accounting, hunters have disproportionate influence and use of Refuge lands during the height of fall and winter migratory bird season. In some cases, large portions of, or entire Wildlife Refuges are closed to the non-hunting public during this time.
- Historically, National Wildlife Refuges viewed the “Duck Factory” (game bird conservation) as a high priority, while relegating non-game issues to a lower rung. It’s only in recent years that Refuges have fully acknowledged this gap in resource allocation, but funding is still not nearly adequate to achieve all resource goals.
- Hunters and groups like the NRA consistently leverage the power of Duck Stamp funding to promote hunter-friendly agendas (such as expansion of hunting rights on refuges) sometimes overriding the voices of non-hunters whose wildlife considerations are often different yet equally valid.