Doing the Work: Doug Osborne Guides Conservation’s Next Generation
It’s no secret that Arkansas is the place to be during duck hunting season. As the premier wintering spot for the majority of migrating waterfowl along the Mississippi Flyway, this state is ready to receive anyone chasing the thrill of the hunt.
But to keep this land beckoning waterfowl, the conservation of food sources and proper land management must be continued each year.
In an effort to keep conservation thriving, the University of Arkansas at Monticello established an endowed professorship, with Doug Osborne at its helm.
“The endowment itself would ensure that the University of Arkansas System always funds or maintains [this role], so this is well beyond me. This is setting the future for when I retire, that somebody fills my role as a waterfowl ecologist in Arkansas,” Osborne said. “That’s the beauty of this position; that’s what we’re trying to work on.”
In the 12 years since he arrived in Arkansas, Osborne has made it his mission to continue the conservation of waterfowl through his specialty — wetland ecology.
With no plans to stop anytime soon, Osborne still knows the importance of ensuring the conservation efforts never stop.
“As a professor at a university, all my effort goes into students and thinking about the next generation. One of my students that goes through my program and gets a master’s degree and goes on to get a PhD may be the one that fills my shoes someday,” he said. “If we can establish a position that’s always going to be funded in waterfowl, it just makes sense.”
Osborne’s passion for wetland and waterfowl conservation is noticeable even outside the university system. So much so that Ducks Unlimited has lent a helping hand to the funding of the endowment.
“He really is producing some quality students down there. He wants to be sure that the program continues long after he’s gone,” Correy Dunn, Director of Development for DU, said. “He just gets so much joy out of being able to work with those students and see them working in the field and being successful.”
The company has been so impressed with the students from Osborne’s program that five have been hired in various positions across the country.
During their journey through the flyway, around 60% of midcontinent waterfowl find crucial resources in Arkansas. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s last statewide survey of the 2022-23 waterfowl wintering period, there was a total of 1,207,170 ducks across the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Mallards comprised 464,742 of that total.
“It’s just such an important location, biologically, for the birds. Hunting is an important cultural and social thing for people, and it’s an economic driver for the state,” Osborne said. “So [this endowment] is going to allow Arkansas to be recognized as having a program that specifically focused on waterfowl, and it shows our dedication to long-term commitment to studying waterfowl.”
Osborne worked with former governor Asa Hutchinson to get the initial funding for the professorship. Hutchinson set aside a $1 million dollar endowment — which Osborne manages — for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture to research wetland waterfowl.
“It’s a million dollars that generates about four to four-and-a-half percent interest a year, and I spend the interest, and we never spend the principle,” Osborne said. “That’s what the new endowment that we’re working on with Ducks Unlimited is going to do — we’re trying to establish the principle so that the interest can be used to apply to waterfowl research and to hire students into education and research.”
Ducks Unlimited is working on matching the Hutchinson endowment. While generating matching funds is promising for future conservation, what’s even better is the excitement DU is generating through its fundraising.
“We’ve been able to get some supporters to step up and help fund the program, and more than anything, build excitement in the state. Duck hunters are constantly looking for more … information,” Dunn said.
Dunn said not only has this professorship gotten DU donors and members fired up, but that he’s seeing a greater interest in the sport in general.
“The main thing we want to see is a draw to the University of Arkansas at Monticello for students that are interested in wetland and waterfowl ecology,” said Dunn.
For Osborne, the future of our wetlands and his students go hand in hand.
“I told them [UA Monticello] when I interviewed, I said, I am going to build a waterfowl program,” Osborne said. “This endowment, it’s not for me. I’ve got 25 years left to work. I’ve got 25 years left to build a program that’s going to stick when I leave, and that’s where I think this endowment is really going to help. I’m excited about the opportunities.”