If you are lucky in your profession the day to day deadlines and doldrums are occasionally interrupted by truly rewarding and satisfying tasks. Such was my good fortune a number of years ago when tasked to assist with hosting the Federal Duck Stamp contest.
No this contest isn’t held in some stuffy Dept of Interior basement conference room in Washington, it moves around the country. And in 2008 it was hosted in Minneapolis.
Dozens of meetings and coordination with state, federal and non-profits (Non-government or NGOs) preceded the actual event, along with several fundraisers, but finally the day arrived for the judging and the actual contest.
Imagine looking at all the artwork, shipped in from Washington using special wooden crates, and knowing that one of these pieces would be selected as the next federal duck stamp, to be pasted on my North Dakota license that fall as well as on the licenses of duck hunters across the country.
You might be surprised to learn the judging panel did NOT consist of a bunch of duck hunters, but rather, in an illustration of just how far and wide the impact of the duck stamp reaches, the panel consisted of a former USFWS Director, a wildlife artist, a stamp enthusiast, a scientific illustrator and a conservation publisher.
They rated the submitted pieces on accuracy of species and habitat, suitability for stamp production and conservation themes.
The actual contest consists of scoring the artwork over several rounds, resulting in a handful of “finalists”. The process is certainly not secret as the event is open to the public and often attended by many artists themselves, such as the famous and prolific Hautman brothers.
Joshua Spies won the event that year with an amazing painting of a long-tailed duck. My role at the actual event was minor but did involve handing each piece up to the stage to be presented before the judging panel. But in that I can say that I held the actual artwork for the duck stamp in my hands for a moment.
It is said, or was, that the federal duck stamp artwork was worth a million dollars. And maybe it is, but the sale of those stamps generate about $25 million dollars each year, nearly all of which goes to purchase waterfowl habitat – acres on the ground. That’s what duck stamps do – they don’t pay for salaries, overhead or wine/cheese parties – they purchase muddy, stinky sloughs and upland acres perfect for duck production and duck hunting. And dog running and kid playing and turtle plopping and frog croaking. It’s where all the magic happens.
I was part of the process of selecting the stamp -- all duck hunters are part of the process when they purchase the stamp.
There’s a move afoot to do away with the stamp in favor of an electronic version, which we know will morph into just another fee on our licenses. That will be a sad day.
North Dakota duck hunters all need the stamp to hunt. Your post office has the stamps, get one, stick it on your license, sign it. Don’t bother complaining about the cost, which is less than a box of Black Cloud. Instead take some pride in knowing you are doing your part for the birds.The author is a former US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Department of Agriculture manager. In retirement he owns and operates Prairie Smoke Ranch, located in central North Dakota, the duck hunting hub of the northern plains. All rights reserved.