A hawk on a duck stamp? No way, hunters say

Is it political correctness, or a shrewd way to clean the scales off an 82-year-old federal program? Will it secure more money for wildlife, or wreck one of the better things the U.S. government has going?

We speak of the duck stamp.

Essentially a national license for hunting migratory waterfowl, the stamp – now costing $25 and each year featuring a different painting of a duck, goose or swan – must be affixed to every hunter’s state permit. The proceeds are used to acquire new lands for a national archipelago of wildlife preserves, including this bird-rich stretch of tidal zone in eastern Delaware, 95 percent of which was purchased with duck-stamp money.

Now the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making the traditional waterfowl share space on the stamps with birds that are not hunted, like herons or hawks. The idea, officials say, is to drum up more interest in the stamps from birders while preserving the loyalty of duck hunters.

But they have been taken aback by the vociferous opposition.

“Birders aren’t going to go out and buy a duck stamp because it has a little oriole on it,” said Adam Grimm, an artist in South Dakota who has twice won the fierce annual competition for stamp design.

“The population of duck hunters, our main customers, is declining and aging,” said Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “So we need to look at diversifying the customer base for the duck stamp.”

In a notice published in February, the agency proposed that the paintings continue to feature a waterfowl species, but also include, in a cameo role, a second species that might be found in the same habitat.

Adding the second bird has been pushed by Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, a private organization that sees this as a way to win wider support.

The proposed change was open to public comments through late March. A large majority opposed the plan.

“Don’t mess up a wildly successful program,” read a typical statement. “Why do bureaucrats think they have to continually stir the pot?” asked another.

But a supporter wrote: “What a wonderful way to grow and promote the conservation of birds!”