By Michele S. Byers
DUCKS UNLIMITED CELEBRATES its 75th anniversary this year, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about its work. Ducks Unlimited too often “flies under the radar,” yet it is a model of how hunters and anglers have contributed for decades to natural habitat conservation.Ducks Unlimited was officially incorporated in 1937, but its roots go back even earlier to an organization called the “More Game Birds in America Foundation.” Both groups were fostered by Joseph P. Knapp, an insurance and publishing mogul, and several other influential hunters who were concerned that the destruction of wetlands and waterfowl habitat was causing a dramatic decline in ducks and other water birds.In his 1945 book, The Ducks Came Back, author S. Kip Farrington Jr. described the sad state of duck hunting at that time: “Duck hunters all over the United States were putting their fowling pieces in mothballs or attempting to sell them… It just isn’t worthwhile to go duck hunting these days—having to get up early in the morning or sit out in hard weather for a shot or two all day.”Since then, Ducks Unlimited has grown to over 579,000 members from all over the world, and has helped preserve over 12 million acres of North American waterfowl habitat. Ducks Unlimited uses science-based conservation techniques to save and restore habitat – more than 61.4 million acres so far. Restoration areas include forest, grasslands and watershed habitats. Ducks Unlimited works with landowners to improve wildlife habitat; and it advocates for sound public policies. As part of its 75th anniversary celebration, Ducks Unlimited is highlighting one project in each state and the “best of the best.” In New Jersey, they have selected New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in Burlington County. This expansive property encompasses almost 14 square miles in the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Ducks Unlimited partnered with New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore 1,100-acres of cranberry bogs to natural wetlands. It’s the largest freshwater wetlands restoration program in this state we’re in – in fact, in the entire northeast – and it won a 2011 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award!. As part of the restoration, an extensive, man-made water control system was dismantled. Canals were plugged and dikes were breached to allow the water table to once again fluctuate naturally. Densely compacted earth was broken apart to form hummocks and pools, and more than 35,000 native trees were planted by scores of volunteers. Ducks Unlimited provided expertise in project design and construction to restore the hydrology of the site in a way that will provide rich and productive wetlands and waterfowl habitat forever. Already, the restored wetlands at Franklin Parker Preserve are a bird-watcher’s delight; there’s no waterfowl hunting. Among the waterfowl that have been spotted there are wood ducks, hooded mergansers, tundra swans, black ducks and mallards. Other wetlands-loving birds at the preserve include bald eagles, great blue herons, kingfishers, harriers and great egrets. We wish Ducks Unlimited continued success in the next 75 years! You can learn more about the organization – and find Ducks Unlimited events in New Jersey – at their anniversary website, www.ducks.org/75th . You can learn more about the Franklin Parker Preserve at New Jersey Conservation Foundation website – www.njconservation.org/franklinparkerpreserve.htm or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.