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REC TOPPER: The federal duck stamp turns 80

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, or duck stamp, into law on March 16, 1934. The first federal duck stamp featured a drawing completed in just one hour by Jay “Ding” Darling of two mallards — it was meant as an initial sketch but was used as the final artwork to meet a quick printing deadline.

The original stamp sold for $1, and the price has only been raised seven times in its eight-decade history. Funds raised from federal duck stamp sales contribute to the conservation of important wetland habitat across the United States, but especially in the Prairie Pothole Region. Since its enactment, duck stamp sales have conserved more than 6 million acres of waterfowl habitat across the country.

Dale Humburg, chief scientist for conservation group Ducks Unlimited, says he once was asked, “How far can you send a mallard with a duck stamp?”

His answer: “Not as far as you used to.”

The buying power of the federal duck stamp has never been lower, and has cost $15 for the past 23 years. That’s the longest period without a price increase in the program’s history.

At the same time, land values have dramatically increased. In Minnesota, for example, land has increased from an average price of $400 to $1,400 an acre since 1998, an increase of 250 percent.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is lead sponsor of a bill to raise the price of the duck stamp to $25. The Congressional Budget Office has found that because the federal duck stamp is a user fee, such a price increase would have no net impact on federal spending.

The bill is S. 1865.