The numbers are staggering. Since 1937 Ducks Unlimited has raised more than $4 billion and conserved more than 13 million acres of wetlands.
And for the most part it was done by duck hunters like those that will be attending the 46th annual Tyler Ducks Unlimited banquet at Harvey Convention Center Nov. 17. Last year 2,610 local chapters raised almost $54 million.
In some ways, however, DU may not get its due as a conservation organization possibly because of its size or because most of the times it is hard to see its efforts. Or maybe it is because it has been doing what it has been doing so well for so long.
Thousands of hunters nationwide flock to annual banquets and other events, but chances are few know the total scope of what DU does to insure good waterfowl hunting year in and year out.
There was a time even duck hunters did not understand what DU meant to their sport because its efforts were focused on the breeding grounds in Canada and the northern Midwestern states.
Hearing the concerns of its supporters that changed years ago, and DU shifted its focus to throughout North America. That shift can also be seen in the numbers. DU has conserved 6.4 million acres in Canada, 4.8 in the U.S. and 1.9 million in Mexico. It shows the organization recognizes breeding grounds will almost be the most important factor in duck numbers, but winter grounds are a close second.
And throughout North America, without diligence both would quickly be going away.
In Texas in 2014 DU helped protect 5,700 acres of waterfowl habitat and enhanced another 7,300 acres. In 2015 the organization worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on public lands projects covering 2,300 acres and an additional 2,500 acres elsewhere in the state. In all, DU has had its hands in projects covering more than 230,000 acres.
"We have a long list of projects we are working on with our partners, and DU is one of our strongest and most efficient," said Kevin Kraai, TPWD waterfowl program leader. "We rely heavily on DU to assist us with habitat delivery on our public lands as well as private lands. They have great expertise in engineering and wetland design. They are also very effective in seeking grants that allow us to match state dollars with other funds often times tripling our resources that go directly to habitat on the ground."
Throughout North America DU has identified five conservation priorities, the Prairie Pothole Region, Western Boreal Forest in Canada, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Central Valley/Coastal California and the Gulf Coast Prairie of Texas and Louisiana. These are all areas that important to waterfowl either as nesting grounds or wintering habitat.
Under that the organization has 16 regional initiatives, again including the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast, where an estimated 90 percent of the original habitat has disappear yet 15 million waterfowl are still expected to winter there each year.
The Gulf Coast is the winter home to 95 percent of all gadwalls and 80 percent of all green-winged teal, just to mention two species. The region is also a stop-over point for birds migrating into Mexico, Central America and even South America.
"Coastal marshes have long been under attack from a long list of influences along the Gulf Coast that include salt water intrusion, subsidence, sea level rise and development," TPWD's Kraai said.
He added at this point the battle is to save what remains.
"Our largest losses have been to our coastal marshes and estuaries which has greatly impacted the waterfowl use of this region over the last 50-100 years. In large part it is currently a sad shell of its former natural self prior to human settlement. We never expect to return that ecosystem to that state but we are working hard to hang on to what is left," Kraai said.
But the critical habitat loss isn't only along the coast.
"We are losing many waterfowl habitats in Texas. Bottomland hardwoods are being cut down, levied out, developed, and flooded by reservoirs. Playa wetlands have endured a long history of abuse associated with farming practices that have caused siltation that often prevents ponding of water and in some cases silted in the playas completely to the point they no longer exist. Most playas have been modified physically for irrigation purposes at some point in time that has also greatly decreases the playas ability to pond water," Kraai explained.
Kraai said it is hard to quantify the total loss of wetlands in the state, but that it has happened quickly in the last 100 years.
Along with its efforts on the ground, DU has turned a corner and become more politically active as well as doing an excellent job of educating and informing hunters on how to be more successful through its magazine and online offerings.
Some of the items include the DU shotgun of the year, a Browning A5 12 gauge, the rifle of the year, a Mossberg 4X4 in 30.06 caliber, and the handgun of the year, a Kimber II 1911 .45 ACP. Other items include a dove hunt for eight at La Dormida Lodge, Argentina, a duck hunt for two at Jacana Lodge, Argentina, a bone fishing trip for two at Bairs Lodge in the Bahamas and a rainbow and brown trout fishing trip for two at Chime Lodge, Argentina.
The doors at the Tyler banquet will open at 5:30 p.m. with dinner being served at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $40 for adults, $70 for couples and $20 for youth 7-17. Tickets are available at the door or by calling Bud Worthen, 903-570-5124 or Tim Copfer, 903-326-1136.
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