Pine Bluff native George Dunklin Jr. will become just the second Arkansan to serve as Ducks Unlimited’s national president when he assumes the role in May at the national meeting in Portland, Ore.
The Hon. E.L. McHaney of Little Rock was president of DU in 1948.
DU also will have just finished this year’s celebration of its 75th anniversary.
“DU’s 75th anniversary is a monumental moment in conservation history,” said Ducks Unlimited’s CEO Dale Hall. “This anniversary — and the last 75 years of science-based, on-the-ground conservation work across North America — would not be possible without the dedication of our volunteers and supporters, as well as the partners who, time and time again, helped us succeed in our mission. This celebration is as much theirs as it is ours.”
It’s no exaggeration to say Ducks Unlimited may have saved the species and the sport of duck hunting for the past 75 years.
The organization arose in the midst of the Great Depression and the mid-continent drought of the Dust Bowl. Canadian duck breeding grounds were dried to the bone and the waterfowl population tumbled drastically. Hunting of wood ducks, canvasbacks and redheads was prohibited in 1936, and the season was cut to 30 days.
Thanks to the work and generosity of insurance and publishing magnate Joseph P. Knapp, DU was incorporated on Jan. 29, 1937 in Washington, D.C., though it was known for four years as More Game Birds. The organization launched its first project at Big Grass Marsh in Manitoba, Canada, in 1938.
DU launched a nationwide fund-raising campaign in 1940 called “Duk-A-Nikel,” in which hunters were asked to contribute a nickel for every duck killed.
After World War II, DU raised revenue of nearly $430,000 in 1946. Forty new DU wetlands projects were started in 1949.
It began its sponsor program in 1954, and it topped the half-million mark in annual fund-raising in 1956. DU began promotion of membership banquets nationwide in 1965.
DU, which opened its first office in New York, then shifted to Chicago in 1965, moved its headquarters to Memphis in 1992, thanks to the work of Memphis businessman William B. Dunavant Jr.
The “Wetlands for Tomorrow” project, started in 2006, wrapped in 2011 with $1.88 billion raised, 2 million acres conserved and 4,865 projects completed.
Today, as the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to conserving North America’s waterfowl habitats, DU is a $170 million organization with 600,000 members, more than 4,000 chapters, 450 paid staffers and 50,000 volunteers. With a $25 annual membership, DU has topped 12 million in conserved acres.
In what may best illustrate how far DU and ducks have come since the organization’s founding is a passage from the 1945 book about Ducks Unlimited, “The Ducks Came Back,” by Kip Farrington Jr. concerning the mood of hunters in 1936:
“Duck hunters all over the United States were putting their fowling pieces in mothballs or attempting to sell them. Many devotees of the sport who were in moderate circumstances refused to buy even a federal duck stamp or a license, let alone a box of shells. They claimed it was not worth the trouble. … From all corners of the United States, the same old cry was sounded — ‘It just isn’t worth it 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. I wouldn’t want my son to pursue a sport that I love so well that has sunk to such a low level after the way I have known it.”
Even with periodic droughts nearly as catastrophic as the one in the 1930s, DU assured that ducks would return in record numbers over the next 75 years.
So, while some events already have acknowledged the anniversary, many more are planned throughout 2012, including a state event in Bentonville in October.
DU’s 75th anniversary book, “The Ducks Unlimited Story,” by Michael Furtman was released in December. The 208-page, coffee-table book includes never-before-seen photos and documents from the organization’s archives. The book is available online and a special edition will be offered at DU events throughout the year.
DU’s website also celebrates the anniversary with a comprehensive chronicling of its conservation legacy.
The anniversary theme is “Conservation for Generations.” The organization expects to be revisiting all its efforts again in another 75 years.
“We’re taking time on this landmark anniversary to reflect on the DU legacy that brought us to where we are today, but we will never stop looking ahead,” Hall said.