Organizations: Ducks Unlimited
In the 1930s, a group of duck hunters in New York stopped hearing that pulse-quickening rustle of wings. They were feeling the sweep of the Dust Bowl thousands of miles away, as its winds parched the birds’ breeding grounds and threatened the biodiversity of the entire continent.
Taking Off: So the sportsmen founded Ducks Unlim-ited (DU) in 1937 to restore and maintain wetlands and other habitats with the lofty goal to “fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”
Wings Over Georgia: So far, the international organization has preserved 12,612,968 acres in North America, with around 21,000 of those in Georgia, primarily in the Piedmont and coastal areas where ducks wait out the winter. The organization set up offices here in 1945, and Georgia now boasts 75 local chapters, with eight of those ranked in the top 100 fund-raisers this year: Atlanta, Columbus, Rome, Gwin-nett County, Waycross, Vidalia, Columbus, Moul-trie, and the Chip Allen tribute chapter (Allen was an Atlanta attorney and wildlife enthusiast killed in a plane crash in 1998).
Guns Optional: “Many of our members hunt, while others are strictly conservation-oriented and do not hunt,” says William Bouthillier, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who directs the Georgia offices and the Columbus chapter of Ducks Unlimited. “Most of them were drawn to this organization for the same reason I was: its efficiency in using its resources to get things done.”
Of every dollar donated, about 88 cents goes “directly into the ground,” he says, with only two percent used for administrative purposes. “We make the money go farther by partnering with other government and private groups, so we’re able to stretch $2 million into roughly $16 million,” Bouthillier says, explaining that a $250 donation preserves an acre of wetland for a lifetime.
“This year’s duck numbers have been especially high,” he adds. “My buddy and I recently just sat on the tailgate and watched them flying into the sunset without shooting. That’s when you know you’re making a difference.”
Circle Of Life: Waterfowl and their hunters are not the only beneficiaries. More than 900 species of plants and animals, including fox, squirrels, bald eagles, and endangered trillium, are surviving with the support of Ducks Unlimited.
“Once the mall goes up, that land is lost,” says DU national spokesman Chris Jennings. “What we do also helps people by improving water quality and erosion. It’s all connected. We’re all connected.” – Candice Dyer