Malheur NWR, the Duck Stamp, and Us

17 January 2016

The seizure of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Oregon by a group of armed occupiers has been a major news event since it began at the start of January. We would have hoped that by now the confrontation would be over, resolved in a peaceful fashion, with the armed insurrectionists gone and the refuge back to fulfilling its role managing the land for wildlife and making this natural treasure accessible to the American public.

No such luck.

Instead, the drama continues; the occupiers are emboldened; the locals’ wishes are ignored, and the American public is locked out.

This is a great disappointment and a great injustice. These outlaws are keeping the American people from enjoying the refuge and are keeping land managers and professional conservationists from doing important work. That work means appropriately caring for the resource, to benefit wildlife and the public, for today and tomorrow.

This seizure is not what visionary conservationists would have imagined 108 years ago when they convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to establish the refuge. Today, the 187,000+-acre refuge accounts for some of the most important bird and wildlife habitat in the region and on the Pacific Flyway. In fact, Malheur also represents a classic success story in the area of true cooperation and regional consensus-building. In 2013, the refuge adopted a long-term management plan (Comprehensive Conservation Plan) through a creative and inclusive process that brought together local communities, hunting and conservation groups, tribes, government entities, and other stakeholders to hammer out a strategy for wise management, neighborly-interests, and serious wetland restoration.

If these lawless out-of-state occupiers wanted to seize a federal property that represented bad management and the dismissal of local interests, they actually picked the wrong place.

Unfortunately, much of the background on the refuge, its purpose, its origin and growth, and its conservation value are being lost in the commotion. Sometimes, the media confuses the national wildlife refuge with federal BLM lands or even national parks.

This is of some concern to the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp. The role of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, often called the Duck Stamp, has been instrumental in securing some of the most valuable habitat at Malheur NWR. A major portion of the refuge was acquired through investment of Duck Stamp dollars, put into the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF). About 48,000 of the current 187,000+ acres of the refuge have been secured via MBCF/Stamp dollars, through willing sellers. That's just over a quarter (25.8%) of the refuge.

This means that those millions of Americans who have bought the Duck Stamp in the past or today – be they waterfowl or other hunters, birdwatchers, stamp collectors, anglers, wildlife photographers, environmental educators, refuge friends group members, or others – have either already played a role in securing Malheur or have a special and personal stake in making sure that their current “investment,” through the stamp, is secure.

Today, the seizure at Malheur presents a challenge to the very concept of government land-stewardship in America, and it is an attack on our natural heritage and on open access to our lands.

Simply put, attempts to seize any part of the refuge system are attempts to take property away from the American people. That effort is not simply the agenda of a small group of armed extremists. In the past few years, state and federal lawmakers across the American West have proposed laws to take over federal lands inside their states. Instead of making federal land management smarter, these misbegotten efforts undermine the conservation-and-access rationale for these lands, be they national wildlife refuges, forests, parks, or BLM lands. Such moves could ultimately put priceless landscapes on the auction block, sold off with some weak justification linked to “deficit reduction.” The extremists in Oregon, in fact, may be creating the political and social space for these sorts of proposals to sound more “reasonable.”

Back in Oregon, the brazen land grab must be brought to a close, safely and quickly. The illegal occupation needs to end, and the armed occupiers should be brought to justice. Most importantly, however, the case needs to be made to the American public over how these treasured landscapes got to be secured for the American public in the first place, including the role of the Duck Stamp, and why modern conservation management of our federal lands is so vital for Americans today and for those Americans who will follow us.

—Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp

We encourage you to send letters to your members of Congress on the Malheur situation. You can post via a page at the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

A Classic Stamp T-shirt

The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp has a new stamp-support t-shirt. It features an image of the classic first stamp, with the wonderful artwork by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling. The message on the shirt is simple – "Securing Wildlife Habitat Since 1934."  Through the t-shirt, we wish to spread the word about the unique role that the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp provides.

The price ($11.20 plus shipping and handling) is being kept as low as possible, to get the t-shirt in the hands – and on the backs – of bird advocates and conservationists across the country.

Our t-shirts come in traditional men's style only, in sizes S, M, L, XL, and 2XL.

This t-shirt may be just what you are looking for in the way of the perfect gift this holiday season!  Order now, or get more information about this great shirt.

Hautman’s Trumpeter Swans on the 2016-2017 Stamp

Joseph Hautman, of Plymouth, Minnesota, won the 2015 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest on 19 September with his acrylic painting of a pair of flying Trumpeter Swans. This is Hautman's fifth Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest win.  His previous wins were in 1991 (Spectacled Eider), 2001 (Black Scoter), 2007 (Northern Pintail), and 2011 (Wood Duck).  From an early age Joe loved to draw and paint, but he quickly became fascinated by the sciences as well. His artistic talents took a back seat during his academic life when he studied physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Michigan. His surprise victory in the 1991 Federal Duck Art Contest provided the incentive he needed to return professionally to his love of wildlife art. Among his many activities, Joe Hautman is also on the board of our Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp. Hautman's fine painting will be made into the 2016-2017 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly called the Duck Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2016.

The species pictured, Trumpeter Swan, represents a real American conservation success story. The species historically suffered huge population declines. By 1933, fewer than 70 wild Trumpeter Swans were known to exist, and extinction seemed possible. Aerial surveys, however, discovered a Pacific population of several thousand trumpeters in Alaska.   Increased conservation efforts have resulted in native western populations recovering. Also, reintroductions to the central part of the continent – mostly around the Great Lakes – have also proven to be highly successful.

MBCF/Stamp Easement Acquisitions

Easement Acquisition

The revealing chart – above – from the Division of Realty (USFWS) shows the percentage of Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars going into easements in the Refuge System since the early 1960s.

Easements, of course, are becoming increasingly important for preserving valuable habitats, as clearly indicated on the chart. These have shown impressive growth since the early 1990s, and they have been highly impressive engines of conservation in the last decade.

A wetland easement pays a landowner to permanently protect wetlands. Wetlands covered by an easement cannot be drained, filled, leveled, or burned. (When these wetlands dry up naturally, however, they can be farmed, grazed, or hayed.) Land covered by a permanent grassland easement may not be cultivated. Mowing, haying, and grass seed harvesting must be delayed until after July 15 each year to protect nesting birds.

In the chart, the grassland, wetland, and habitat easement categories all refer to the specific easement documents described in the Service Manual Chapter 341 FW 6. These types of permanent easements, to protect Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs), are mainly acquired in the five states in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), primarily on working ranches or agricultural lands.

Region 6, the mountain-prairie region covering eight states in the American West, and Region 3, the Midwest region also covering eight states, use the same wetland easement standards (shown in  dark blue) in the PPR, but they used them somewhat differently.

Region 6 uses the "grassland easement" document (shown in  green), and Region 3 uses the "habitat easement" document (shown in  purple). Region 3 habitat easement also includes some additional wetlands protection not present in the Region 6 grassland easement.

The "other conservation easement" category (shown in  gold) encompasses all other conservation easements. These habitat easements differ from, and are generally more restrictive than, the minimally restrictive easements described above, with specialized easement terms set through negotiations with landowners.

Summarizing, these wetland, grassland, and habitat easements are the three types of easements that the USFWS uses to acquire for Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) in the PPR, whereas the "other conservation easement" category encompasses all easements acquired for National Wildlife Refuges.

Easements have a vital role to play these days, primarily for waterfowl but also for long-legged waders, shorebirds, terns, gulls, rails, and wetland-associated songbirds. But grassland birds, especially grassland songbirds and a cluster of shorebird species, are benefiting greatly. Easements are the crucial conservation connector for many working lands. Hundreds of landowners in the PPR – especially in the Dakotas – are awaiting permanent easement agreements with the USFWS.

There is a lot more information available from the USFWS on the Wetland Easement Program and the Grassland Easement Program.

The Beautiful and Practical 2015-16 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp

The very first Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (popularly called the "Duck Stamp") costing $25 was released at a ceremony on the morning of June 26 in Memphis, Tennessee, at the Bass Pro Shops there.

Almost all the revenue for the sales of this Stamp  – adding up to an estimated $40 million for the year – will go directly to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF). (The MBCF receipts come mainly from the sales of the Stamp and import duties collected on arms and ammunition.) This dedicated funding  will secure vital breeding, stopover, and wintering habitats for waterfowl, other bird species, and other wildlife across the National Wildlife Refuge System.

With the new Stamp, moreover, fully $10 of the $25 will be directed to wetland and grassland easements in the System.
Today, parts of 252 National Wildlife Refuges (accounting for more than 2.37 million acres) and over 200 Waterfowl Production Areas (with over 3.0 million acres secured) owe their existence to the stamp investments made through the MBCF. It is comforting to know that every time you buy a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp you are helping secure valuable habitat for birds, wildlife, and for future generations of Americans.

The artwork on the 2015-2016 Stamp shows a pair of lovely Ruddy Ducks painted in acrylic by Jennifer Miller of Olean, New York. Describing her outdoor as well as artistic interests, Miller says, "I grew up with a very vivid imagination, and couldn't stop drawing birds and dragons. I am mostly self-taught, with no formal art education, and studied under the guidance of the natural world…  I draw a lot of inspiration from the land around me! I have what others have referred to as an 'explosive' passion for nature and wildlife, and indeed I go out of my way daily to study, observe, and learn about my interests. I am equally happy examining a wild bird through binoculars as I am examining bits of moss growing across a fallen tree."
You can find out more about Miller and her work on her website. And you can follow her "Duck Stamp Adventure," a blog about her work and travels upon winning the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest here.
For more on the contest and the program see the website for the Federal Duck Stamp Office.

Support a Campaign for the Stamp


There are many ways to help support the growth and appreciation of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation [Duck] Stamp. The print public service announcement (PSA) for the Stamp shown here is just one way. There are many others we recommend for your consideration. 

Join our Friends Group and support its work.

Don't just buy the Stamp, display it. Get a stamp in a plastic holder for your personal use, or purchase blank holders in bulk for your organization, club, or group.

Stay connected!

See the many materials that are available to help support the Stamp, including posters, the PSAs and a listing of the "top ten reasons" to buy the Stamp.

You and your refuge friends group, duck club, birding club, or photography club can sell Stamps.  The best way is through consignments from Amplex.

Write an article in support of the Stamp for your nature/bird/hunting organization, using materials provided here.

Except where noted, web site content by Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This license allows sharing and a right to adapt the written materials, with appropriate credit.

Read even more: follow our links for related information and activities to support the Stamp.

Let us know what you think and how we can all do better to advance the cause of the Stamp.

Let us know if you want a speaker at your event, convention, conference, to speak on the importance of the Stamp.

Your Duck Stamp Dollars at Work

The image at left shows a Stamp-associated sign – "Your Duck Stamp Dollars At Work" – at an emergent marsh at the Pondicherry Division of the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire. (You can see Cherry Mountain in the background, part of the White Mountain National Forest.)  Almost 30 percent of the Pondicherry Division has been acquired through Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars. The MBCF is where Stamp dollars are held prior to investment.

You can access an invaluable listing of every National Wildlife Refuge that has received funding through Stamp dollars here (updated as of 30 September 2012). This involves 252 refuges in the lower 48 states.

Another way to look at the data is via the following interactive map of refuges across the country, prepared by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The map is color-coded according to the percentage of land in each that was acquired with Duck Stamp/MBCF money.