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The name of the group may be a little misleading, but there is no mistaking the enthusiasm of its members towards their main goal – conservation of the nation’s wetlands.
Founded in 1937, when North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows, Ducks Unlimited is investing in projects across the continent that will preserve wetland areas, used by ducks and other birds during their seasonal migrations north and south.
“We’ve saved 12 million acres worth of land, from Canada to Mexico,” Shelby County Ducks Unlimited Area Chairman Chris Cottongim said. “We’ve saved twelve thousand acres in the State of Kentucky. We’ve got several projects within thirty minutes of Shelbyville.”
While many of the members of the group are duck hunters, Cottongim stresses that anyone with an interest in conservation is welcome in the group, which will gather Friday night at Claudia Sanders Dinner House for its annual fundraising event.
Ducks Unlimited’s fact sheet lists membership throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico at 773,360, with in 8,680 Kentucky as of 2011. There are 11,647 conserved, and in 2011, $503,926 was raised by Ducks Unlimited in Kentucky.
“Sometimes we get tagged as a group for duck hunters but that’s not correct,” Cottongim said. “The biggest donations come from people who aren’t duck hunters at all. Last summer I went to a regional meeting in St. Louis and noticed that probably 25 percent of the people there, supporting Ducks Unlimited and doing the same things I’m doing, aren’t duck hunters.
“But they believe in conserving wetlands. The intent is to serve the wetlands first, and if good duck hunting comes out of that, then that’s a benefit.”
Although the group does employ some personnel to oversee district initiatives, the bulk of the work undertaken by Ducks Unlimited is done by volunteers, and as a result, 86 cents in every dollar raised is able to be put into the ground, Cottongim said.
Cottongim cited the projects near Shelby County.
“Two on the Kentucky River, which is just east of here, and one in Taylorsville,” he said. “Then there are three projects in Jefferson County that are [being undertaken by] Ducks Unlimited and North American Wetlands Conservation Act.”
Alan Zaring is both a duck hunter and a member of Ducks Unlimited.
“I don’t support Ducks Unlimited because I’m a duck hunter, and I like having ducks to shoot,” Zaring said. “I support Ducks Unlimited because it’s about wetlands preservation and wetlands preservation is good for people.”
He stressed that wetlands help keep our water clean, and notes that wetlands provide natural habitats for a wide range of wildlife. He echoed Cottongim’s argument that Ducks Unlimited is for anyone with an interest in conservation and wildlife.
“There are some animals that are real barometers in measuring the health of the environment,” Zaring said. “Waterfowl is one of these.”
Cottongim noted that the Shelbyville chapter of Ducks Unlimited isn’t as prominent as a chapter that may be along the Mississippi River, and the group is trying to change that through making the general public more aware of its more general goals, and providing the opportunity to get involved.
“We plan this one event every year to do our fundraising for our county for Ducks Unlimited,” Cottongim said. “Our Claudia Sanders dinner is a membership drive basically. We’ll have a dinner, and silent auction items, live auction items, games, and some things like that and all to raise money for Ducks Unlimited. “
This year, the event will include something different – a theme.
“We’ve never done a theme before, but we’re doing a theme this year,” said Cottongim. “Duck Dynasty has become kind of a hot television show, and everybody seems to be catching on, or watching it, or whatever. So this year we’re doing a theme, and if you dress up as a Duck Dynasty character, you’ll get a free raffle ticket when you come through the door.
“So we’re just trying to lighten it up a little bit, have some fun with it, and be a little more casual. Hopefully it will work out.”
WHAT:Silent auction and dinner fundraiser
WHEN:Friday, cocktails at 5:30, dinner at 7
WHERE:Claudia Sanders Dinner House, Shelbyville
ETC:Dress as Duck Dynasty character and get free raffle ticket