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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Duck stamp rule ruffles feathers

by Bryan Hendricks | October 15, 2020 at 2:45 a.m.

Recently we wrote about how political agendas influence outdoor writing contests. They also influence things as innocuous as the federal duck stamp art contest.

The rules for creating the 2021-22 federal duck stamp require entries to contain hunting-related elements. Richard Clifton of Connecticut won the award for his painting of a lesser scaup. In the foreground is a lanyard full of calls floating on the water. In a New York Times article published Tuesday, Clifton said the image is based on his having found a call while hunting many years ago.

If not for the uproar that the controversy generated, I wouldn't have noticed the calls. I buy my duck stamp every year, sign it and affix it to my hunting license. Seldom do I actually look at it.

Now that I am aware of the calls, they do have the appearance of an add-on. The calls are tastefully represented, but a reasonable person would ask, "What are those duck calls doing in the reeds next to that duck?" An even more reasonable person might realize that a lanyard full of calls wouldn't be floating in the reeds. They would have sunk.

Artists complained about the rule because artists typically do not appreciate editorial diktats. A mandatory hunting element is certainly an editorial diktat.

Now, cue the absurdities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the hunting element rule for the artwork in January, generating 708 comments. Comments included concerns that a mandatory hunting theme is divisive and jeopardizes the stamp's appeal to nonhunters. Christine Hauser, who wrote the article, did not say how many comments reflect that sentiment, nor did she say how many support the theme. The Times is at times notoriously and selectively vague.

Of course, Hauser also included a requisite comment from an anti-hunting organization. In this case it was Priscilla Feral, president of Friends for Animals.

The rule, Feral was quoted as saying, "takes the cake as one of the most ludicrous, anti-wildlife, anti-conservation measures the administration has implemented."

Let's dissect that statement. The public buys about 1.5 million duck stamps annually. One stamp costs $25, of which $24.50 is used to buy waterfowl habitat or acquire conservation easements for protection in the national wildlife refuge system. Regardless of the picture's content, it is ludicrous under any circumstance to describe duck stamps as anti-conservation or anti-wildlife.

Hunters buy about 90% of duck stamps. The only definite recoil one might project from fewer nonhunters buying the stamps is that the percentage of hunters buying stamps would increase without hunters actually buying more stamps. A nonhunter stamp boycott might increase the percentage that hunters buy to maybe 95%, which would bolster an argument to make a hunting element permanent.

The rule might intend to acknowledge the role hunters play in waterfowl conservation, but cramming a hunting element in the duck stamp art is weird because the focus is always on the duck, which occupies the overwhelming majority of the rectangular medium. There isn't much room for anything else. A duck decoy would be distracting. A Labrador retriever would upstage the subject. A duck hunter or hunters would diminish the subject and define the theme. Spent shotgun hulls floating on the water would suggest pollution and perpetuate the image of hunters as slobs.

That is about the extent of available duck hunting themes.

We were not surprised to read in the New York Times piece that Friends of Animals has sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court to abolish the rule. We're not for the rule or against it. We just believe it is superfluous.

Instead, we would prefer abolishing policies at national wildlife refuges that discriminate against hunters, like the one that requires hunters at White River National Wildlife Refuge to buy an additional access permit that is not required for nonhunting visitors.

Duck hunters are required to buy the stamp, and the fruits of our contributions are monumental. Everyone that matters knows it. We don't need a stylistic token to validate us.


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