The latest edition of one of America’s most successful and enduring conservation tools made a relatively quiet debut last summer.
When the 2015-16 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp was released June 26 in Memphis, Tennessee, the ceremony was modest and little publicized, and there was no consumer uproar.
By fall, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl hunters were fully aware of a big change in the federal “duck stamp” as they bought the hunting licenses that are still in their pockets for the ongoing seasons.
Like each year since 1934, this year’s offering features a handsome piece of wildlife art. And like each year, revenue from stamp sales will protect wetlands and other critical habitat.
But what’s especially notable this year is the cost of the stamp – $25. That’s a 67 percent increase from 2014. While tax increases are a hot topic in political debates, a bipartisan process supported the duck stamp increase because of its value as an investment in conservation.
The duck stamp has been issued by the federal government for more than 80 years. The first stamp, drawn by conservationist and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist C.J. “Ding” Darling, sold for $1.
All waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase the stamp in addition to state hunting licenses.
Other wildlife lovers such as birders also purchase the stamp, as do some collectors. Possession of the stamp allows free entry to federal wildlife refuges.
Since 1934, sales of the stamps have generated more than $800 million, resulting in the purchase, lease or easements of more than 6.5 million acres of habitat (mostly wetlands) as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and Waterfowl Production Areas.
The total of protected areas is roughly the size of Vermont.
Of every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes to purchasing habitat or acquire conservation easements, making the stamp one of the most cost-effective funding sources for wildlife in the world.
More than 300 national wildlife refuges were created or have been expanded using Federal Duck Stamp dollars, including Turnbull and Columbia refuges in Washington.
At least one refuge in every state has benefited from Duck Stamp dollars.
The habitat serves as breeding, feeding, resting and wintering grounds for much more than ducks and geese. It benefits thousands of species, most non-game. It also provides vital ecological functions such reducing erosion and storing and cleaning water.
But the price was fixed at $15 since 1991 and failed to keep up with higher land costs and other economic changes.
According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 it would take $25.74 to have the same buying power as $15 in 1991.
After years of lobbying by conservation groups including Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, Congress passed the Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014, which was signed by President Barack Obama.
The law raises the price and requires $10 of the $25 to be directed to wetland and grassland easements.
The $25 stamp with a pair of ruddy ducks is the first of its kind.
It lets the nation know that hunters, the primary purchasers of the federal duck stamp, have again willingly accepted higher fees to support habitat that benefits a broad range of plants and animals, not to mention all Americans.
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