By Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor
The Delta Advantage
Waterfowl Heritage Fund allows local chapters to direct conservation projects
From the Winter 2012 Delta Waterfowl Magazine
JUST LIKE THE long sprig feathers on the tail of a mature drake pintail, the Waterfowl Heritage Fund is one of the key distinguishing features of Delta Waterfowl.
In many conservation fundraising models, chapters are required to send all of the money raised to the organization's headquarters. While those funds might be applied to the overall mission of the group, some local areas don't see much benefit.
Since 2002, Delta has operated with a different philosophy. Delta's WHF allows chapters to keep — and use — 25 percent of the net proceeds from a fundraising banquet. Whether applied to local projects such as hen houses, wood duck boxes, First Hunt events and scholarships, or reallocated back to Delta with specific earmarks for predator management, student research or other Delta programs, WHF places control in the hands of local members.
Not surprisingly, Delta chapters across the United States and Canada are energized by WHF. After all, it's a great motivator knowing one-fourth of the banquet money can stay in your community.
Texas Chapter Funds ALUS
For Delta members in Beaumont, Texas, the prairie potholes of Saskatchewan are literally a world away.
Yet, the Southeast Texas chapter of Delta Waterfowl, located a stone's throw from the Gulf of Mexico and 1,700 miles from Saskatchewan, has routinely impacted conservation in Canada with annual contributions from its WHF. For more than a half decade, money raised by this Lone Star State chapter has helped spur one of Delta's most innovative conservation programs: Alternative Land Use Services.
Delta chapters can use WHF on an array of programs — flexibility is one of its biggest benefits — but for Southeast Texas members, sending their funds to ALUS just made sense.
During a whirlwind eight-day, multi-city, town-hall-style tour in the southern United States, Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson touted the accolades of Delta, the plight of waterfowl and the organization's plans for the future. When Olson touched on ALUS, he struck a chord with Jeb Comeaux, then the SE Texas chapter chairman.
"For those of us who knew what programs Delta had to offer, ALUS was the one that seemed the most exciting and best bang for your buck," Comeaux said.
Olson explained about plans for a pilot ALUS program in Saskatchewan, and how funding was needed to get the ball rolling. Soon after, ballots were issued during a Southeast Texas banquet, asking members how they would like to use WHF. ALUS received an overwhelming nod, and since 2007, the chapter has annually supported the conservation program via its heritage funds.
"We knew how beneficial (the Conservation Reserve Program) had been in the United States. ALUS sounded like something that, even though we're way down here, knowing we can send our money up there and see some results was paramount," Comeaux said. "Part of it is knowing the organization, and trusting that they will do what you ask them to do with the money."
Using WHF, the chapter recently helped fund a Delta Waterfowl mottled duck study, but the SE Texas Chapter maintains strong ties to ALUS.
"We figure that if you're not hatching ducks out on the breeding grounds, it doesn't do you any good down the flyway," said current chairman Phil Drago. "ALUS has a lot of support, and we jumped on board when we heard about it. Letting Delta use our heritage funds for it just makes sense."
Flipping to Delta
For a quarter century, a group of dedicated waterfowl hunters and advocates in Angola, Ind., hung their camouflage hats under the flagship of another waterfowl conservation organization.
Lured by WHF, in 2008 they jumped ship to Delta Waterfowl. The move initially was a tough sell for banquet regulars, who wanted to know about the sudden change of heart.
"People would quiz us," said Derek Craig, Northeast Indiana chapter secretary.
"Now, when I say we get 25 percent back to use here, they think it's really cool."
About the same time, Craig and his fellow chapter members met a Delta Waterfowl regional director, who explained at length about the organization, and specifically, about WHF. They were sold.
Today, with the financial freedom of WHF to invest in local initiatives, the Northeast Indiana Chapter is stronger than ever. The chapter puts on four events a year, including an annual banquet, Duck Day, a hunter education course and a two-week Canada goose banding roundup. Plus, they give out several scholarships, as well as the Young American Award.
Duck Day is an annual two-day outdoor education program that exposes 600 grade-school kids to conservation, waterfowl and hunting. Activities include retriever training, duck ecology, wood duck nest box construction and a hands-on look at the importance of wetlands.
WHF allows Northeast Indiana the opportunity to focus on what matters most.
"Everyone has their own reason for volunteering, but for me, it's all about the kids," said Craig, who was named the 2012 Delta Waterfowl Volunteer of the Year. "It's about passing on the passion and the values. And at the end of the day, even if they don't become hunters, at least they learn the values."
Hen House Hauler
At the turn of the new millennium, Tom Dufour helped pioneer the Baton Rouge Area chapter of Delta Waterfowl. In the 12 years since, the 77-year-old Louisiana native has made a yearly pilgrimage to the far north with one goal.
"We just wanted to do something much like the man who started Delta,'" Dufour said, of James Ford Bell. "We wanted to try and put two ducks back for every one we harvested. The best way to do that was by building hen houses."
With the help of a few local Boy Scout troupes, Dufour and his hen house army got to work building nesting structures. But instead of installing them in sloughs and marshes in his home state, Dufour made the three-day, 1,700-mile trek to North Dakota, unloading his cargo in the prairie pothole region — the "duck factory" — where it would be the most productive. It was an unselfish gesture that had the potential to benefit every hunter in the flyway.
Since starting the annual road trip, Dufour estimates he has hauled 1,200 nest structure cradles and 600 hen houses.
To help produce the hen houses, Dufour fabricated some special jigs: one to a log splitter for curling the nest cradle, and another that allows him to weld a structure in roughly 30 seconds. It takes him a couple days to make enough houses to fill his trailer.
When the Baton Rouge Chapter first began the hen house project, members didn't even know they could use WHF. Now, it helps cover the costly endeavor, a feat that gets more expensive by the gallon of gas.
Metal isn't cheap either, and for the past few years, Dufour has received all the materials as donations from Gene "Buddy" Ohmstede, owner of GEO Heat Exchangers in St. Gabriel, La. The piping is chrome-polished steel — similar to that used for gun barrels.
"It likely will outlast the guys working at Delta," Dufour said.
Last year alone, Ohmstede donated around 12,000 pounds of pipes and rods, which he also cuts, drills and taps, and is worth some serious dough at the scrap heap.
"It costs him a lot of money and time to do that, and I've tried giving him credit, but he just says, 'I'd rather see you get use out of it than bringing it to the dump,'" Dufour said. "I wouldn't be able to do it without him."
Ohmstede, an avid outdoorsman, doesn't go home empty-handed — he receives a jar of Patsy Dufour's homemade jelly as payment.
Dufour plans to continue the hen-house excursion for as long as he can. But when he does finally hang up his welding shield, he hopes his son or grandson will pick up the torch. Until then, the Dufours will continue to make the yearly 3,400-mile, round-trip voyage, with the goal of adding mallards to the fall flight.
"The success with the hen houses has just been phenomenal. Not necessarily what we do, but through Delta's research," Dufour said. "We put more ducks in the air with those things than nests on the grounds."
Teaching New Hunters
In western North Dakota, where the Prairie Pothole Region melds with the hubbub of a flourishing oil boom, a group of passionate hunters is keenly focused on the future of waterfowling.
The Montrail County Fowlers was founded in 2011. In that short timespan, and thanks to WHF, the Stanley, N.D., chapter has dedicated itself to creating new duck hunters.
"We just love hunting, and really want to share what we're passionate about," said Jason Dupay, chapter chairman. "A person's first hunt is so memorable. When you take these young kids out for the first time, you get to relive it yourself."
Using WHF money from the chapter's first banquet, the Fowlers hosted a youth hunt for 15 first-timers. What really surprised the Fowlers, however, was the amount of mothers who showed interest. That's when the proverbial idea light bulb went off, and plans were made to host a ladies' hunt.
The ladies hunt was similar to the youth hunt in many respects, but the outcome was fundamentally different for the dozen participants. If the women, and specifically mothers, were hooked, then they could bring their families hunting in the future. Not so much with younger hunters.
"With First Hunt, you're introducing kids to duck hunting. They go and have a great time and are into it," Dupay said. "But if they don't have a parent who will take them again, then what?"
The Fowlers' gumption, stoked by WHF, has been instrumental in the chapter's early achievements. At banquets, they showcase hunter recruitment undertakings. The response is positive.
"The heritage fund is a big part of that," Dupay said. "We had over 200 people at our banquet last year, and folks would ask, 'Where does our money go?' With WHF, we can show them. I think it is a big part of our success. If not for WHF, we wouldn't have a Delta committee. It has energized us."