Tag: Jay Norwood Ding Darling

Review: The Wild Duck Chase

One of the most successful conservation efforts in world history was created by a political cartoonist and is funded by a stamp purchased at your local post office.

That may seem improbable. If you don’t hunt ducks, you likely haven’t even heard of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, a federal program that has conserved millions of acres and saved species once considered doomed for extinction.

This often-overlooked conservation success is the subject of Martin J. Smith’s well-reported and entertaining The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

Smith expertly traces the beginnings of the Federal Duck Stamp, an episode in conservation history that may read like a far-fetched fantasy given recent headlines of gridlock and sequestration.

In the early 1900’s, due to professional market hunting and the destruction of wetland habitats, populations of ducks, geese and other water birds had crashed. Conservationists raised alarms and succeeded in passing some significant conservation legislation, but many recognized that there needed to be funding for wetland protection and restoration.

The problem? By the 1930s, Americans found themselves in the midst of the Great Depression. Certainly no one would care about ducks and wetlands when many Americans were out of work and struggling to support their families, right?

Not quite. In the forefront of the waterfowl conservation movement was Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. Conservation, especially wetland conservation, was a frequent subject for Darling’s cartoons in the Des Moines Register.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a committee to address waterfowl conservation, he appointed Darling, considered by many to be an odd choice. After all, he was not a scientist or land manager.

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