Ducks Unlimited: A Leader in Wetland Preservation

As a result of waterfowl and wetlands management, hunters and people enjoy

Today, engineering and science are the focus of study to achieve balanced waterfowl and wetlands management at the Ducks Unlimited headquarters in Bismarck, North Dakota.
  • Waterfowl and Wetlands Emerge as Conservation Heroes
  • Cooperation and Passion feed Understanding and New Science
  • Ducks, Geese, People…all need Wetlands

by Bob Holzhei

     The novel, The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, was published in 1939 and two years earlier, at the height of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, dried up wetlands across North America, resulted in plummeting duck populations.

     The novel described the story of human unity, love and the need for cooperation.  However, the effects of the stock market crash in October 1929 lasted long and the Dust Bowl created a sense of desperation as folks moved across the country and away from their homes.

     In the midst of hopelessness and despair, an idea for an organization was conceived in New York City when waterfowlers met in 1930. They saw a need to raise money to preserve and maintain wetlands across the United States.  The original organization was called More Game Birds in America Foundation, which established a 10-year plan for increasing upland game bird populations.  The Federal Government created many wildlife refuges at that time focusing on flyways and refuges, thus creating breeding habitat in the North as well as migration and wintering habitat in other areas.  Eventually the flyways became super flyways.

     Discussion of the future of wildfowl led to wildlife management which was in its infancy stages.  State and federal agencies became involved as a new science began, which was pioneered by Aldo Leopold, a professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin.  Other colleges and universities also began developing courses in wildlife biology and management.

     Suggestions for modernizing the name from More Game Birds in America Foundation to simply Ducks was made, however in Canada, corporations are legally designated as “Limited.”  So the name didn’t fit perfectly, as the organization did not want populations of Ducks Limited.  Thus, the name Ducks Unlimited came about.

     In 1934 the first duck stamp was issued and the money generated was earmarked for duck habitat.

     Ducks Unlimited was established in North America in 1937 as dried up wetlands during the Dust Bowl resulted in decreasing duck populations across the country.  Ducks Unlimited emerged as a grassroots organization which was volunteer based consisting of members who were conservation-minded and outdoor enthusiasts.

     The vision seemed unattainable as the idea was conceived.  Perhaps the thought would settle in the dust and become buried. That did not happen. 

     As of 2017, the Ducks Unlimited annual report indicated 14 million acres of land have been conserved since the founding of the organization.  The “Rescue our Wetlands” campaign was funded by donations from supporters and organizations across the United States.

     Wetlands are crucial for many reasons.  According to Ducks Unlimited, “Wetlands filter drinking water and refill ground water sources, prevent flooding, protect coasts from hurricanes, and provide recreational opportunities for birds, hunters, anglers and boaters.”

     The despair from the years of the Dust Bowl described by Steinbeck transformed as a need for cooperation and led to the emergence of Ducks Unlimited. 

     Over time, The Grapes of Wrath became a beautiful vineyard, thanks to the efforts of Ducks Unlimited.