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image of Minnesota duck stamp artwork: a male and female bluebill over a lake at sunset

Minnesota's Duck Stamp Legacy

The state waterfowl stamp celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year. More than 3.5 million duck stamps have been sold to hunters over the past three decades, generating $15.7 million to restore wetland wildlife habitat in Minnesota.

The idea for a fund-raising waterfowl stamp was borrowed from the federal duck stamp, which debuted in 1934. In the early 1970s, members of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association were deeply concerned about the drastic loss of waterfowl habitat due to the drainage of wetlands, and they figured a state duck stamp could provide the needed funds to begin restoring wetlands to the landscape in Minnesota. But it wasn't until Howard Hansen, then the marketing director at Federal Cartridge, joined the effort in 1972 that the Minnesota waterfowl stamp moved from an idea to the printing press.

Hansen's first action was to move the Minnesota Waterfowl Association's duck stamp lobbying efforts from Albert Lea to Minneapolis, where they would be closer to the state capitol in St. Paul and his home in Burnsville. From 1973 to 1976, Hansen—who also served as president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association at the time—worked tirelessly at the capitol, talking to legislators and helping to write the legislation to create a state duck stamp.

"Every bit of my vacation time for those three years was spent at the state capitol," Hansen recalls. "We had about 4,000 Minnesota Waterfowl Association members then, and we mobilized almost all of them to call and write their legislators on behalf of the bill.

"One House representative called me one morning and said his office had been inundated with phone calls. 'Call your dogs off,' he said to me, 'I'm going to vote for your duck stamp.'"

In 1976, the bill to create state waterfowl stamp didn't make it to a vote because of technicalities in its wording. The bill also faced stiff opposition in the House, where some members opposed the idea of a dedicated funding stream for ducks. In a bit of parliamentary acrobatics in 1977, the bill was switched from a dedicated funding to an appropriations bill, and it passed.

Thirty years later, the 72-year-old Hansen says he is proud of the state duck stamp that he and others in the Minnesota Waterfowl Association worked so hard to create. But he's still worried about the state of Minnesota's duck habitat.

"Wetlands are still being drained and plowed. Many of the wetlands that are left are filled with carp. And ducks are disappearing," says Hansen.

"I grew up on a 300-acre farm near Clarissa, and when I was a boy we left sloughs on the farm that were filled with ducks. Now those sloughs have been filled with dirt.

"When I used to hunt ducks in Otter Tail County as a boy, I could stand by a lake and watch waves of 200 divers—redheads, cans, bluebills. Now if I go and stand out there in the fall, I may not see a single wave of ducks all day."

Hansen sees the current proposal at the state capitol for a dedicated funding stream from the state sales tax for wildlife as the modern-day equivalent of the campaign he and his colleagues at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association waged in the 1970s. And he's not surprised to see duck hunters leading the charge again.

"Duck hunters aren't afraid to tackle tough issues, Hansen says. "And they're tenacious."

Gustave Axelson, managing editor

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