George Dunklin loves ducks. He loves them so much, he's worried about the ones that will be flying around in 100 years.
Dunklin is the owner of the 5,000-acre Five Oaks Duck Lodge at Humphrey, but, like the conservationist he is, he wasn't satisfied with the arrangement he has created for today. He wants to make sure what is in place now will be sustainable for another century to come.
To that end, Dunklin has partnered with the University of Arkansas at Monticello to let the school use his bottomland hunting property in the creation of a graduate-level certificate program at what will be called the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center.
He's also kicking in $600,000 over three years to pay for tuition assistance and stipends for the students who will be enrolled in the new Wetland and Waterfowl Habitat Management Graduate Certificate Program.
"In our bottomland hardwoods, we are concerned about the natural regeneration that is not occurring and we want to make sure that 100 years from now, we've got a good stand of red oak timber because those mallards come in and eat those acorns," Dunklin said Wednesday at a signing ceremony at the duck lodge. "We need the science that these folks at UAM are doing and the great work they are doing. We're able to provide some funding for that and our properties as kind of an outdoor lab that they can use."
It's not surprising that Dunklin would make such a move, considering the adjectives that describe him: former Game and Fish commissioner, philanthropist and avid duck hunter. What was surprising is the unique nature of the move, an aspect not lost on UA System President Donald Bobbitt, who called the partnership the creation of a new way for higher education to be delivered to students.
"We've got to find innovative ways to expand our resources while still meeting our mission of service to the state and our constituents."
Bobbitt went on to call the new arrangement an example of a public/private partnership that will be beneficial from a land management standpoint and from an economic standpoint as well.
"Timber management and harvesting, and recreational hunting and fishing generate millions of dollars to the Arkansas economy each year," Bobbitt said, "...We see this particular partnership as a way to maintain a precious natural resource while enhancing employment opportunities for Arkansans."
Dunklin's worry concerning the viability of ducks and their habitat stemmed from his experiences when he was growing up in Pine Bluff. He said that in those days, several of his dad's friends had quail dogs and they'd all go bird hunting together. But no more. As Dunklin put it, the demise of the quail in this part of the state wasn't due to hunting pressure but a loss of habitat.
Dunklin said he and his manager had been working on the habitat problems looming at his duck lodge but that they were not scientists and wanted to take the effort to the next level. Hence, the partnership with UAM.
This new program will encourage scientific research that will be a benefit to other private landowners as well as to the Game and Fish Commission with its many wildlife management areas, such as Bayou Meto, where the deleterious effects of green timber flooding are becoming more and more apparent.
The arrangement should also serve as an example of how individuals and businesses can take a private resource and multiply its benefit many times over. No one may remember George Dunklin's name 100 years from now, but if at that time, ducks, with their wings cupped, are eagerly swinging down through the limbs of flooded red oak trees and splashing down for a few acorns, that's all that matters.