Wings Over Canada - How Ducks Became A Prominent Feature In Canada
(Originally published in the the Merritt News)

© By Othmar Vohringer

We take it for granted when we see large numbers of ducks of all shapes and sizes congregating in city ponds, marshes, wetlands, and lakes or geese flying overhead in their characteristic “V” formation on their journey south.

So much so that it may be hard to imagine for the younger generation that this has not always been the case. About 60 years ago waterfowl were on the brink of extinction due to rapid urban expansion, pollution and the creation of agricultural croplands, which contributed to the disappearance of much of our wetlands – areas which are critical to waterfowl as feeding and breeding habitats.

As well, during the Dust Bowl years between 1930 and 1940, also known as the Dirty 30’s, North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows. A group of dedicated sportsmen and conservationists decided not to sit idly by as the continent’s waterfowl numbers continued to dwindle and so founded an organization in 1937 that became known as Ducks Unlimited (DU). .

Less than 2 years after that historical event Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) was established in the year 1938. Considering that 70 percent of all North American waterfowl originates from Canada this was a smart conservation move. Since then other chapters have been established in Latin America, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia, making DU the largest waterfowl and wetland conservation organization in the world.

In North America alone DU has over 1,718 conservation projects running on more than 2.8 million acres of land. In order to create new habitat and restore wetlands more than 2,903 miles of shoreline has been created and the cubic yards of earth moved exceeds more than one million. The result of this massive undertaking didn’t take long to show the desired results. By 1944 waterfowl populations rose over 40% and have continued to rise up to the present day.

Waterfowl populations are now at their highest numbers ever. Ducks of different species flying along one of North America’s four major migration routes are estimated to be over 50 million strong. Add to that an estimated population of several million geese of different breeds and even the most oblivious among us will be impressed with the results.

Although Ducks Unlimited is primarily concerned with the conservation of waterfowl and their habitat, its benefits are far wider reaching. True to the DU motto, “It’s more than ducks”, song and wading birds, deer, beaver, muskrats, moose and bears among many other wildlife species have also benefited from those efforts.

Of course wildlife are not the only ones to benefit from wetland and marsh conservation. There are a vast array of plant species and insects that thrive near and around wetlands. Wetlands and marshes are critical to our rivers and lakes and with that to our fisheries and people. Far to few people are aware what a wide reaching positive impact the protection, conservation and reestablishment work of Ducks Unlimited has on our wildlife, habitat and people. It’s more than ducks. It’s an entire ecosystem.

As you can imagine ongoing conservation projects on such a grand scale costs many millions of dollars. Ducks Unlimited relies entirely on private money donations and fund raising events organized by volunteers of the various chapters across Canada. To keep the running cost of such a large organization at an absolute minimum DU only has a few employees on the payroll. The rest are all volunteer workers.

Bill Otway, former Ducks Unlimited Provincial Chairman for six consecutive years and eight years on the national board of Directors told me recently that the organization spends over 90% of the money raised directly on conservation programs. According to Bill this is possible because: “Everybody, including the directors, are volunteers and have to pay their own expenses out of their own pockets to attend meetings, functions, and organization conventions.”

Bill also tells me that Ducks Unlimited has raised over one billion dollars and is well into the second billion. No other conservation organization in the world can match that conservation-funding feat. Ducks Unlimited today conserves, restores, builds and maintains in Canada alone over 6,679,810 acres of waterfowl habitat through volunteer work provided by the 100,000 strong Canadian memberships.

Despite the unparalleled achievements of Ducks Unlimited in bringing waterfowl back from near extinction to numbers never seen before the battle is not over; wetland loss continues in Canada. As much as 70 per cent of Canada’s original wetlands have been lost in some areas of the country. As more of our precious and delicate nature disappears forever under the bulldozers it remains important to support the conservation efforts of Ducks Unlimited in their never ending quest to conserve, restore and maintain important habitat that ultimately will benefit all wildlife and humans alike.

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