With effort, we can all be conservationists


Anyone can be a conservationist. It requires no special training or education. A few dollars or a little time is all it takes.

Conservation begins with preserving land because there is no more being made. That’s why conservation agencies and organizations that preserve land rank at the top of my “most important” list.

For example, a $25 “Duck Stamp” is arguably the best investment any conservationist can make. More formally called the “Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp,” the Duck Stamp was created in 1934.

Supporting a tax

Hunters lobbied to tax themselves to ensure that waterfowl would forever fill the skies. A duck stamp serves as an annual 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. Since 1934, duck stamps have raised more than $800 million to protect and manage more than 5.7 million acres of wetlands at more than 300 refuges. (For more information, watch the new documentary, “The Million Dollar Duck,” which recently aired on the Animal Planet TV network.)

And what’s good for ducks and geese is also good for marsh wrens, great blue herons, frogs, turtles, snakes, beaver, muskrats, mink, and myriad fish, butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates.

In fact, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that one-third of the nation’s endangered and threatened species can be found on National Wildlife Refuges.

Voluntary effort

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 collectable art.

Furthermore, wetlands provide much more than wildlife habitat. Wetlands purify water supplies, store floodwaters, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and provide spawning area for many fish.

Duck stamps are simply the best conservation investment anyone can make. Ducks Unlimited is a membership organization that also acquires habitat for waterfowl and other wetland species.

Formed in 1937 during the Dust Bowl, DU was born at a time when North America’s duck populations had dropped to all-time lows. Its simple mission was habitat conservation.

Today, DU’s 700,000-plus members in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have conserved more than 13.5 million acres of waterfowl habitat.

Another option is to buy a state-issued hunting license. This might seem a counter-intuitive suggestion for non-hunters, but every state owns and manages thousands of acres of wildlife habitat.

If you have a hunting license, you’re entitled to a legitimate seat at the table when you attend state wildlife agency public meetings. Your voice becomes just as valid as the most enthusiastic hunter.

Other organizations

I understand that some people just cannot bring themselves to offer financial help to anything associated with hunting, so here are some other conservation organizations worthy of support: American Bird Conservancy, Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and The Wilderness Society.

These are just a few of the hundreds of conservation organizations that compete for public support. Keep in mind that many have local and regional chapters for people who prefer to keep their activities closer to home.

The National Audubon Society, for example, has 463 chapters nationwide. And many states are home to nature centers, birding clubs, and land trusts.

If you’re more interested in a specific resource, Google phrases such as “butterfly conservation organizations,” “organizations that conserve whales,” or “land trusts” for your state.

Volunteer your time

And if you have more time than money, volunteer at a local nature center to help maintain trails or become an educator. If you’re inexperienced, staff at most local organizations will happily train you.

Finally, if you find no opportunities nearby, plan a pollinator garden for next year. Plant native wildflowers for bees and butterflies, and they will come. And you will be a conservationist.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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