Creation of a Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp

A birder, wildlife watcher, photographer and non-hunter version of the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (aka Federal Duck Stamp).

Why a Separate Wildlife Conservation Stamp?

A Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp would provide a robust, parallel revenue stream for National Wildlife Refuges, preserving habitat and wildlife, while giving non-extractive users a funding tool and a stronger voice in habitat and wildlife decisions on our shared, public lands.
Consider the following quotes, taken from Martin J. Smith’s book The Wild Duck Chase, which covers the history of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest:

  • “The biggest challenge facing the [Duck Stamp] program today: Unless it can convince birders and other non-hunters that buying duck stamps is the best way to conserve wetlands and the other wildlife habitats they treasure, the burden of doing so will continue to fall on the dwindling number of hunters and stamp collectors who traditionally support the program.”
  • Amy K. Hooper, editor of WildBird magazine is not optimistic about birders or non-hunters embracing the Duck Stamp as hunters have. She says, “there’s just a cultural bias against anything related to hunting.”
  • “For many hunters, the traditional paper stamp is more than just a receipt for a tax paid, it is a badge of honor, a symbol of the hunter’s respect for the natural resources they are privileged to use … duck hunters are proud of their sport, proud of their heritage, and proud of their Duck Stamp Program.” (emphasis is the author’s)

These quotes summarize the challenges facing the current Duck Stamp program: reduced financial support; cultural differences between hunters and non-extractive users; and, a strong association with Duck Stamps as a traditional financial resource for hunters. These statements also indirectly point to a viable solution, which is a separate Wildlife Conservation Stamp. Not only would such a stamp help overcome revenue shortfalls in the National Wildlife Refuge System, it could erase the cultural obstacles cited by Jackson. A dedicated Wildlife Conservation Stamp would also instill a source of community pride and involvement for birders and wildlife watchers, just as the Duck Stamp does for hunters. Wildlife watchers and birders share a passionate commitment to wildlife, but they often diverge from hunters on which habitat, resources and Refuge priorities should be funded and emphasized.

Why Many Wildlife Watchers Don’t Buy the Duck Stamp

Among birders and wildlife watchers, there’s little disagreement about supporting our 560 National Wildlife Refuges, along with the habitat and wildlife they sustain. Most wildlife watchers are anxious to contribute their resources toward that end. Disagreements tend to occur, however, when the subject of the Federal Duck Stamp arises. The concerns tend to fall into the following categories:

  1. Duck Stamp purchases by non-hunters are not accurately accounted for — which means that when critical decisions are made about Refuge priorities, non-extractive users are forgotten in favor of hunters and anglers. As Mike Bergin wrote at the 10,000 Birds blog, “Apparently, when it comes time to calculate the financial contributions of the different sectors of outdoor enthusiasts, only hunters and anglers put up worthwhile cash, in part through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.”
  2. Because of this accounting, hunters have disproportionate influence and use of Refuge lands during the height of fall and winter migratory bird season. In some cases, large portions of, or entire Wildlife Refuges are closed to the non-hunting public during this time.
  3. Historically, National Wildlife Refuges viewed the “Duck Factory” (game bird conservation) as a high priority, while relegating non-game issues to a lower rung. It’s only in recent years that Refuges have fully acknowledged this gap in resource allocation, but funding is still not nearly adequate to achieve all resource goals.
  4. Hunters and groups like the NRA consistently leverage the power of Duck Stamp funding to promote hunter-friendly agendas (such as expansion of hunting rights on refuges) sometimes overriding the voices of non-hunters whose wildlife considerations are often different yet equally valid.

The Current Status of Refuge Funding

A 2013 Wildlife Society Bulletin piece states that changing demographics and cultural shifts away from hunting could result in a $14.3 million annual loss to refuges. According to CARE (Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement) consistent underfunding cripples our National Wildlife Refuge System in a variety of ways, including operations and maintenance backlogs. Additional issues include a shortage of law enforcement officials, as well as invasive species problems on 2.5 million acres of Refuge lands. In a time of Congressional austerity, Refuge advocates face an uphill battle in retaining public funding for the Wildlife Refuge System.

The Benefits of a Wildlife Conservation Stamp

A 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 71.1 million wildlife watchers in the U.S., and 13.7 million hunters. Wildlife watchers outnumber hunters significantly, and they spend $55 billion dollars each year in the pursuit of wildlife activities. In other words, there is a large and enthusiastic source of untapped revenue from wildlife watchers, one that could be rendered viable through this dedicated funding stream.

Please read: Benefits of the Wildlife Conservation Stamp

Funding Allocation

Funds from the purchase of Wildlife Conservation Stamps would be distributed for the following purposes:

  1. Birds: Habitat acquisition for birds and wildlife species.
  2. Blinds: Photography and birding blinds.
  3. Boardwalks: Boardwalks, viewing platforms, and interpretive trails.
  4. Binoculars: Wildlife education and field materials for children and adults, generating enthusiasm for non-consumptive uses of National Wildlife Refuges.


If you are a member of the media, a blogger or wildlife advocate please feel free to use this material or download our Wildlife Conservation Stamp Proposal (in pdf format) to cover or promote the project. You can also download related graphics from our Press Images page.


2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Wild Duck Chase
by Martin J. Smith
Walker & Company, Sep 2012

Restoring America’s Wildlife Refuges 2011
Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement

Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation 2011
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Time to Buy a Duck Stamp … or Not
10,000 Birds Blog