Waterfowl hunters in the United States are familiar with the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, more commonly known as “duck stamps.” They are pictorial stamps produced by the U.S. Postal Service for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but are not valid for actual postage. The U.S. duck stamp program originated in 1934 as a federal license requirement to hunt migratory waterfowl.
Federal duck stamps have a broad purpose in conserving wetlands through acquisition and leases. The program is instrumental in and well known for developing and maintaining the National Wildlife Refuge System. Most states have their own duck stamps, designed to help with conservation efforts modeled after the federal program.
Canada has its own duck stamp, too. Directed by the private, nonprofit organization Wildlife Habitat Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp and Print is produced annually, and 2010 marks the 26th edition of this successful program.
The program started in 1979 at the 43rd Federal Provincial Wildlife Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan, with an initiative to make a stronger voice for conservation. The conference resolved to establish a federal-provincial steering committee to consider creating a national mechanism for protecting wildlife habitat.
It took a year to produce a document titled “Guidelines for Wildlife Policy in Canada,” which reinforced the need for comprehensive habitat programs in Canada. In 1980, in response to the earlier initiatives, almost 30 non-government organizations formed the National Habitat Coalition to persuade governments to more aggressively protect deteriorating habitat across Canada. Awareness was further increased through discussion for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Finally, in June 1983, the federal cabinet reviewed alternatives submitted by Environment Canada for the formation of an agency that encourages habitat protection.
The government decided an independent foundation would best serve the three needs identified by Environment Canada: a catalyst for action, a critic of policy and a channel for financial support for habitat protection. A standing committee comprising federal, provincial and non-government organization representatives obtained a charter in February 1984, and Wildlife Habitat Canada was born.
To represent conservation interests across Canada, WHC formed a board of directors, whose first annual report described the first month’s activities as “a new voice of wildlife habitat, already emerging.” Canada did have the benefit of reviewing the U.S. program before developing its own. But one of the main differences between the two programs is the price of the stamps.
In the United States, duck stamps are affixed to the state hunting licenses, and no federal permit is required — U.S. hunters just have to buy the duck stamp. Some states also have a state duck stamp that requires each person to sign their name directly on the stamp, and the money is pooled to purchase land for the federal migratory bird refuge system. The U.S. migratory bird commission decides which states the money goes toward to create new refuges or expand existing ones.
In Canada, however, a Federal Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit is issued with the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp and is good in any Canadian province. The 2010 stamp, which features a pair of green-winged teal, is $8.50, and the permit is $7.50. Both are required of waterfowl hunters to validate their migratory game bird hunting privileges in Canada. The stamps and limited-edition prints are also sold to collectors and individuals interested in contributing to conservation. Funds from the sales are collected annually for conservation proposals submitted to WHC.
Through the support of the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada (the federal government), Canadian wildlife artists and the hunting community, the duck stamp program has accumulated many accomplishments, including wetland acquisition and research. Funds are also earmarked for waterfowl hunting mentorship, land stewardship, and education and communication initiatives.
“Wildlife Habitat Canada is more than just a duck stamp,” said Len Ugarenko, president of WHC. “Conserving wetlands conserves many important species of birds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, marsh birds, song birds and others. Our programs benefit everything from amphibians, bats, pollinating insects and unique flora. Wetland conservation helps with water purification, flood and storm control, fish habitat and much more.”
What isn’t unique to the Canadian program is how much hunters contribute to the welfare of wildlife, the natural world and society. The funds collected through the sale of duck stamps are significant — more than $35 million. This is one of the reasons the Canadian funds are also used for mentorship and education. Generating interest in waterfowl hunting heritage is critical to long-term conservation objectives and a strong hunting fraternity. Hunter numbers have dropped in Canada since the 1980s but recently show positive increases. Last year, the U.S. duck stamp celebrated its 75th anniversary, while WHC celebrated its 25th. Both programs are successful but have the potential to grow even larger. What would happen if more of the public supported the programs with the purchase of more stamps? Both countries have youth stamp programs in hopes that younger generations will grow up knowing the value of the stamps.
WHC has pumped millions of dollars into conservation. The funds they grant help develop regional programs to further conservation and stewardship of a variety of habitats. WHC is an instrumental partner in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and has helped secure thousands of critical acres.
Collect Waterfowl Stamps
To learn more, check out whc.org. If you are a stamp collector or just interested in helping the conservation and stewardship movement in North America, consider purchasing stamps from all programs in Canada and the United States.
Introduce new people to the unique art and philatelic opportunities associated with the programs. You’ll want the 75th anniversary stamp from the U.S. program and the 25th from the Canadian program to celebrate 100 combined years of conservation efforts.
I currently sit as chairman of the board for Wildlife Habitat Canada and believe strongly in supporting conservation. Without the passion and commitment of avid waterfowlers from across North America, we wouldn’t enjoy the conservation initiatives we all respect and enjoy. We know the value, and we must make sure to have wetlands in our future.
Brad Fenson is a wildlife habitat specialist from Edmonton, Alberta.