FOWL PLAY

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Driving around Marion County Lake in mid-March, he spotted two pairs of wood ducks paddling in the water, heralding in warmer spring months.

“Wood ducks are the most beautiful duck,” said Quinn Trapp, lake resident and member of Marion County Ducks Unlimited.

“They’re just awesome, especially the male and all his plumage. But the mallards and green teals are the most common ducks in this area.”

Ducks Unlimited chapters consist of volunteer members organized within a specific geographic area and actively involved in raising funds to help fulfill the mission of DU.

The DU mission statement is to “conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl,” according to www.ducks.org. “These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.”

DU was begun as a grass-roots organization in 1937. It has been a long-standing tradition that at least 80 cents of every $1 contribution goes directly to conservation efforts.

The Marion County DU chapter was reinstated in 2000 after Trapp told the Kansas regional director he wanted to bring the dissolved chapter back. Following a four-hour conservation with the director, Trapp contacted some of his friends.

“It was a neat deal to re-start the chapter,” Trapp said.

“I had some guys in mind for the committee and officers, and everybody was interested. And we’ve had a lot of backing throughout the Marion County communities.”

After the regional director came to Marion and spoke to the group, the county chapter was up and running.

Their first banquet was held in the fall of 2000 at the Marion VFW hall. Through fund-raisers like banquets and membership dues, individual chapters across the nation, Canada and Mexico contribute to waterfowl conservation and management.

“DU’s habitat work has provided more than 9.4 million acres of valuable nesting, brood-rearing, staging, migration and wintering habitat,” according to the Web site.

“Scientific evaluations of DU projects have proven that the habitat we have provided has increased the annual production of waterfowl and provided valuable resources throughout the year that increase survival and reproductive potential.”

The Marion County DU chapter has about 141 members with a 12-member committee. Officers are chairman Jeff Jirak, activities chairman Bill Keith, treasurer Rodd Taylor and secretary Terry Schmidt.

Basic yearly membership dues are $25. “That gets you membership to DU National, a magazine once a month through DU, and they’ll send you offers,” Trapp said. “But they also have different levels of memberships.”

For $250, members can become a bronze sponsor, for $500 a silver sponsor, for $1,000 a gold sponsor and for $10,000 a life sponsor.

The name Ducks Unlimited does not rule out the fact that other waterfowl benefit from the group’s efforts.

“All the habitat that they create and restore, there’s a number of different wildlife involved-cranes, heron, geese and everything else involved in the chain,” Trapp said. “There’s not some big sign that says, ‘For waterfowl only.’ It’s for everything.”

Although Trapp and others in the area group are duck hunters, not all members of DU hunt. Some are drawn to the groups’ conservation efforts.

“We’ve got members throughout the state who have never hunted a duck in their life,” Trapp said.

“They like the conservation aspect of it. And a lot of guys like going to the banquets. The items they sell at the auctions-the prints and guns-there are so many neat things. Duck’s Unlimited has a lot of stuff that is actually collectors’ items.”

After expenses, proceeds from the Marion County DU banquets and other fund-raising events have ranged from $12,000 to $17,000 sent to the national organization.

Marion County is in the central North American flyway-an established air route for migratory birds. Duck-hunting season in the county is usually the first Saturday of November and continues to the end of February.

“And there are a couple of weeks in there that are closed seasons on certain things,” Trapp said.

“To hunt ducks, you have to have a Kansas hunting license, a federal duck stamp, a state duck stamp, and there is also a little 50-cent stamp for any migratory birds.”

Part of the DU philosophy is to encourage children in conservation efforts and preserve wildlife for future generations.

With this in mind, DU has created the DU Greenwing, a youth program begun in 1973 for children 17 and under. It was designed to help children understand the value of wetlands and the variety of species of wildlife that depend upon them.

Area youth may join Greenwing with a $10 yearly membership that includes Puddler, a magazine distributed four times a year to Greenwing members 12 years or younger. Senior Greenwing members, ages 12 through 17, receive the regular Ducks Unlimited magazine.

In addition to joining Greenwing, youth may become a Greenwing Legacy with a one-time donation of $200.

“Once they do that, they do not have to buy another membership to Greenwing or Ducks Unlimited until they are 21,” Trapp said.

The first area Greenwing event was held April 3 at Marion County Park and Lake.

The family of the late Sunny Walls has designated a memorial in his name to be given to Marion County Ducks Unlimited.

“Sonny Walls was one of the nicest guys you would ever meet,” Trapp said. “He loved kids, and he loved the outdoors. So that’s why we started the Greenwing event. We’ve been working on it and with the memorial, it made it all possible.”

Children were given an opportunity to learn about conservation, dog training, bird identification and bird calling.

“It was just a wonderful event,” Keith said. “We had about 25 parents and 55 kids show up, and 13 kids joined Greenwing. All the kids were given duck calls.”

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks had a laser-shooting booth and a one-person stand for clay-target shooting; Flint Hills Retrievers gave a dog-training demonstration; Marion County Emergency Medical Services offered information about first aid in the hunting field ; and youngsters had the opportunity to be conservation carpenters.

One of the “real neat” things we did is build wood-duck nesting boxes, Trapp said. The local Boy Scout chapter has volunteered to place these nesting boxes throughout the county in different areas.

During the year, the Scouts plan to observe the boxes, record data and clean the boxes out when necessary.

“That’s going to work for them toward their Eagle Scout merit badge,” Trapp said. “So we’re getting two entities involved-Boy Scouts and Ducks Unlimited.”

Future plans for the county DU chapter include working on a wetland project at the Marion Reservoir.

“Wetlands are areas inundated, or saturated, by surface water or groundwater that support hydric or water-loving vegetation,” according to the DU Web site.

“Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth, and they continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate.”

To begin a local project would involve DU biologists and KDWP, Trapp said.

“I visited a little bit with the DU biologist. We have heard there used to be a marsh out there at one time. If we can find it, he’s willing to come and look at it and see if we could do bring that marsh back so it would be useable for ducks and waterfowl hunters.”

Whether raising money for a local wetland or helping on a national level, Trapp said he commends the area chapter members for their commitment and area business members for their generous contributions.

“It’s all due to the donations from community businesses,” Trapp said. “They donate money and items for the auctions. We couldn’t have the type of events we have without their support.

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