Federal duck stamp art exhibit stays in San Bernardino County for 34th year


By JIM MATTHEWS

www.OutdoorNewsService.com

Two years ago it looked like San Bernardino County was going to lose its prestigious opportunity host the federal duck stamp art exhibit. For 32 consecutive years, the original art by the winning artist and the top 100 entries was shown the weekend before Thanksgiving at the San Bernardino County Museum.

The final show was at the museum in 2015, and it featured not just the winning duck stamp art and artist, but had a collection of some of the finest wildlife artists in the county exhibiting displaying works. The event netted the county museum $40,000. Despite the success and long history, museum director, Melissa Russo, decided that would be the last year for the museum to host the event.

Blindsided by the decision, members of the San Bernardino County Fish and Game Commission scrambled to find a location that could host the duck stamp art last year, not wanting to lose the contract the county had with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They felt it was important to continue to share the rich history of the duck stamp art program and promote the hunting stamp’s contribution to conservation.

Last year, Rancho Cucamonga Bass Pro Shop’s store manager Bob Minor volunteered his location for this show, and over 15,000 people saw the event last year. This year, Fish and Game Commissioner’s Robert Olin and Dave Halbrook, have been working overtime to restore the duck stamp art exhibition to what it had been at the museum -- a regional event to showcase wildlife conservation and some of the finest wildlife artists from California and across the county. Working with Minor, the event will again be held the weekend right before Thanksgiving (Nov. 18-19) at Bass Pro Shops, and the Commissioners are in the process of securing eight of the top wildlife artists, in addition to the duck stamp art winner, for the event. More details on artists and other exhibitors will be announced later.

When this event was originally held in San Bernardino County in 1983, it was the first time the original duck stamp art had ever been shown outside of Easton, Md., and it took some political wrangling to convince the feds the show needed to go on the road. After the first couple of years the art was exhibited in San Bernardino County, the duck stamp art indeed went on the road, spreading the word about this incredible conservation story. Since March this year, the art work that was seen last fall at Bass Pro has been in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, and it was in Arkansas (at the Bass Pro Shop headquarters) through Saturday this week. This event in Arkansas was also the first-day-of sale of these stamps for this fall’s hunting season (see photo below for an image of this new stamp). Collectors prize these special first-day-of-issue stamps because of their increased value.

The San Bernardino County exhibit in 1983 set this traveling show in motion, and it will return to the county again this year, shortly after the winning art is selected for the 2018-19 federal duck stamp. As has always been the case, the winning duck stamp artist will be on hand to show off his or her winning work and talk about winning the duck stamp art competition. Much has been written about how an artist winning the competition becomes an instant millionaire. Maybe. While the original art become the property of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the artist retains the right to sell reproductions of the artwork. Wildlife and hunting art collectors snap them up, and some artists do gross around $1 million on sales of their reproductions. Some, not so much.

However, the best part of this story is about how much money is and has been raised for conservation efforts through sales of the duck stamp itself. The winning art is used on the federal duck stamp which is required to be purchased for waterfowl hunting in this country. There are over 1.5 million stamps sold each year at $25 per stamp. The money must be used for the purchase of property or easements to protect wetlands. Less than two percent of the money raised is used for overhead with more than 98 percent used for its intended mission of protecting wetlands. Since the program’s inception in 1934, over 5.7 million acres have been acquired using Federal Duck Stamp revenues. More than 300 national wildlife refuges have been created or expanded using this revenue. It is one of the most successful and best-funded conservation programs in the nation’s history.

Sage grouse hunting season

cancelled in California for fall

The permit-only sage grouse hunt, historically held in just four hunting zones in Mono County and far Northeastern California, was cancelled by the California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday this week when the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended no season be held in 2017.

The DFW said that breeding ground surveys done early this spring showed “significantly fewer sage grouse in all four hunting zones.”

Fewer than 200 hunting permits for sage grouse are issued each year and the harvest has rarely been more than 100 birds, an insignificant number.

The DFW said that “although managed hunting, in and of itself, is not considered a risk to the species, five years of drought conditions, the large-scale Rush Fire of 2012, and heavy storms in winter 2016-17 have all contributed to habit loss and degradation of the sagebrush ecosystem.”

The scientists found that sage-grouse population counts have decreased between 47 percent and 62 percent in the four hunt zones over the last five years. This information is based on data collected in the field. However, heavy winter snow hampered biologists’ access to sage grouse leks this spring, and some sage grouse that were present in the survey area may not have been accounted for in the survey. CDFW thus took a precautionary approach in making its recommendation to the Commission.

Sage grouse populations fluctuate naturally based on weather and habitat conditions, according to the DFW. By this fall, California’s sage grouse population is projected to be 1,341 on the low end and 2,145 on the high end.

Many hunting conservation groups have been critical of the move. First, sage grouse typically respond to a wet winter like we’ve just had with excellent production and the DFW had incomplete data. Second, the number of birds harvested by hunters would have no adverse impact on sage grouse numbers. Third, and most importantly, they fear that by ending the hunting of sage grouse for a single year, the hunt will never be reinstated even when bird numbers rebound.

END

[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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