US Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Duck Stamps Face Criticism from Hunters, Conservationists

by Jon D. B.
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The yearly duck stamps, a staple in the U.S., are now being regulated by the government to include imagery that has both hunters and conservationists up in arms.

For decades now, the most talented American wildlife artists have meticulously painted beautiful portraits of ducks in hopes of having their artwork featured as a coveted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Duck Stamp. The stamps, an absolute staple for hunters and conservationists alike, fund an immense amount of conservation efforts in the states. In fact, 98% of their proceeds go directly into the protection and maintenance of America’s wilds. That totals a whopping $40 million dollars each year.

In turn, what could bring such a shakeup to this time-honored, lucrative U.S. tradition?

As Audubon Magazine points out, the USFWS announced their new ‘permanent’ theme for the duck stamps: waterfowl hunting. For both conservationists and hunters – this is a problem.

Duck Stamps mandated to feature hunting imagery

The switch to a focus on hunting these animals – instead of the animals themselves – is deeply problematic. For one, it pushes the notion that “conservation always involves hunting”. Even more concerning? The focus on hunting is already starting “to divide people up: the hunting community versus the non-hunting community”. So says Bill Hartwig.

Hartwig, the former chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, is not happy with what he’s seeing. The regulation, and its fallout, comes from the current administration’s wish to appeal to hunters. “It focuses the attention back on the hunting community, when [it] should be a stamp purchased by every American,” Audubon states.

Indeed, the current Trump administration is a huge proponent of hunting. They are also, however, huge proponents of expanding access to public and protected lands for fossil fuel companies. This, like the forcing of hunting imagery on serene duck stamps available to all citizens, sends deeply mixed messages.

Wildlife artists, too, are voicing their concerns

For their part, the painters behind these classic stamps are tepid, at best, to include hunting imagery.

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The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will feature Kanach’s painting of two hooded merganser ducks for their migratory waterfowl stamp this fall. Staff Photo (Photo by Suzi Piker/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Speaking to Audubon Magazine, artist Rebekah Knight says that while the agency’s intent might be to honor hunters – it’s proving “off-putting” to those who don’t hunt. Her concern is that “lost duck calls and empty shells may be perceived as litter floating in the water”. To her, this implies that “hunters are litterers,” among other negative implications.

“I really appreciate and want to celebrate hunters, [but] the potential artwork may paint a negative image of hunters, which is completely doing the opposite of what’s intended,” she continues. “And if there’s a way to do that without placing such limitations on us artists, I would be all for it.”

Knight cites the “litter” aspect because it’s become the #1 way for artists to skirt the new regulations. Instead of painting a duck kill, or something equally unnecessary, artists are getting creative with the rules. To appease the USFWS, they’re placing shotgun shells in the water below the ducks. Or duck calls to the side in the grassy banks. Or including other human artifacts in what would otherwise be a pristine wild environment. In short: it clutters a serene painting of a wild animal with human waste. When in the past – it was all about the gorgeous personalities of U.S. duck species.

This year, though, Audubon magazine estimates “at least 24 of 138 submitted artworks feature either a duck call or shotgun shell in the water or strewn along its edge”.

USFWS spokesperson argues for the change

In an email press release to Audubon, an official USFWS spokesperson argues that the change is appropriate:

“The nation’s rich natural resources [we protect] in perpetuity. Lrgely because of hunters and their contributions through various revenue programs. The intent of the recent duck stamp regulation is to honor the history, culture, and conservation efforts founded by hunters. And what they have provided to all Americans.”

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Regardless, the change has been a big one for all communities within. This year’s winner of the duck stamp contest, Richard Clifton, says it best. His top-prize painting features a lone lesser scaup drake. Beside it? A lost duck call beneath the water’s surface.

“I’m a pretty big-time waterfowl hunter, but I didn’t feel like [this] was necessary. Waterfowl hunters are going to buy the stamp regardless. [I’m not sure] why there’s a need to appease them,” says Clifton. “By mandating it, it puts a wrench into your design. Personally, I’d rather see the paintings be more about the duck.”

[H/T Audubon Magazine]

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