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April 1, 2009

Industry’s Role in the Early Years of the Wildlife Conservation Movement


The folks at Delta Waterfowl magazine are "aiming for accuracy" too:

Marking the 75th anniversary of the federal duck stamp, an article titled "The Missing Years" in the spring issue of Delta Waterfowl magazine examines the unsung heroes of the early conservation movement, including the significant contributions from the shooting sports industry that pushed through key initiatives during wildlife's darkest hours.

The article also makes the case that while Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, the Pulitze Prize-winning newspaper cartoonist, was a giant in the conservation movement, he wasn't the father of the federal duck stamp. "There are many unsung heroes in the duck stamp story," says Delta editor Dan Nelson, "and the birthday of the wildly successful program is a good time to recognize their contributions to the early conservation movement."

According to Nelson, the story begins in 1911 when W.R. "Billy" Clark, advertising manager of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, convinced his boss Harry S. Leonard, that a special funding effort was needed to reverse declining game populations. That year a consortium of arms and ammunition manufacturers represented by Leonard offered New York lawyer William B. Haskell $125,000 for the establishment of an organization to preserve wildlife. The result was the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, which provided new energy to efforts to protect wildlife and helped gain passage in 1918 of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that ended market hunting and spring shooting. Said former president Theodore Roosevelt of AGPPA, "The manufacturers . . . should be backed up by every sportsmen worthy of the name, and by every lover of Nature, and every good citizen."

The real father of the federal duck stamp, writes Nelson, may well have been a Connecticut man, Frederick C. Walcott, one of the founders of AGPPA, who in 1921 wrote an article titled "The Necessity of Free Shooting Grounds," championing the idea of funding waterfowl habitat through the sale of a hunting stamp. Walcott's article was illustrated by a stamp-like sketch of Canada geese by artist Belmore Browne. That same year a hunting stamp bill was introduced in Congress, but showing that things haven't changed all that much, political stonewalling and an attack by one of the nation's first anti-hunters, Dr. William Hornady, delayed passage of the bill for years. It wasn't until 1934 hat the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act became law.

According to the article, the shooting sports industry played a critical role in providing funding for and helping to organize many wildlife conservation efforts along the way, "All these critically important initiatives–the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the federal duck stamp, the wildlife research programs, the Pittman-Robertson Act, and the Delta research facility–sprang directly from the old AGPPA, which might have never been created were it not for the arms and ammunition industries."

A lot of those early organizations changed names or morphed into groups that are familiar to us today. For instance, the Wildlife Management Institute and Delta Waterfowl Foundation trace its roots to that era.

Kudos to Dan Nelson and Delta Waterfowl magazine for raising awareness of industry's longstanding connection to wildlife conservation in America.