As Orange Coast editor in chief Smith (Straw Men, 2001, etc.) reports, the Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful government programs ever.
In his side job as chief of what became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling made bird hunters the stewards of their wetlands by selling them annual duck stamps for the license to hunt. Darling drew the first in 1934. Since then, those prized little stickers have generated more than $750 million. Of each of those dollars, just 2 cents went for overhead; the rest was for wetland management. Eventually, duck-stamp painting became the sole juried art competition run by the American government, and it has been copied by many states and foreign jurisdictions. Smith covered the 2010 contest and its strict rules and earnest artists. The winning hand-painted entry is reduced to stamp size and must depict one of five selected birds. The waterfowl portraitist must understand avian anatomy and know every feather—some birds flap more than others to keep aloft, some are better just paddling around—and it takes three rounds to judge the winner. The stakes are high. Collectors seek to buy a duck print signed by the winner, and other fees add to the purse, which in the past was said to approach $1 million (less now). Despite the stakes, however, the media is apathetic about this successful federal program, and the pro-am contest isn’t well known outside of the hunting and collecting world. Smith aims to fix that.
An interesting bit of Americana well reported.