Members of the University's Ducks Unlimited chapter visit the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Flyway preservation

Waterfowl conservation focus of new UD Ducks Unlimited chapter

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10:47 a.m., Dec. 12, 2013--The University of Delaware has added a Ducks Unlimited chapter as a new registered student organization on campus. 

Ducks Unlimited (DU) is the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation and started in 1937 during the Dust Bowl when, according to its website, North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows.

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DU has an active presence in the state of Delaware, with more than 6,000 members in now 16 chapters who have conserved over 15,000 acres of the state’s wetlands. 

At UD, the chapter will have three goals for its members: fund raising for the national organization, educating the public about waterfowl and wetland conservation, and providing students with conservation experiences. 

Chris Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology and the club’s adviser, explained that because UD is situated in the center of the Atlantic Flyway -- one of four flyways corridors waterfowl use to move between northern breeding and southern wintering landscapes -- “we have an amazing resource, starting in New Jersey and continuing through Virginia, where there are a lot of wintering waterfowl.”

As such, UD is “naturally a central hub for potential waterfowl research and education,” Williams said, adding, “It’s exciting that we have the ability to offer this resource in terms of education and research for the East Coast as a whole.” 

Williams said that other than a DU chapter at Yale University, there are no other university chapters in the Mid-Atlantic and northeast regions. “When you think about that flyway, and all those ducks piling down starting at Long Island, we have a hole in university representation, so it was perfect that we could add a chapter.”

DU has a youth education outreach component that is broken up into three groups: Greenwing, for grade school; Ducks Varsity, which is geared toward high school students; and Ducks University, of which the UD group is a part. 

Williams said he is hopeful that the UD group can give back by educating those in the Greenwing sections during an annual statewide event in April, while also exploring other opportunities as they arise. 

Through the program, UD students will be directly involved in conservation efforts, Williams said, adding that they have already taken a trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. 

Chase Colmorgen, a senior majoring in natural resource management in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and president of DU at UD, said the trip to Bombay Hook was very interesting as the students “met with the regional biologist for Delaware Ducks Unlimited, a Bombay Hook biologist, and a UD graduate student conducting waterfowl research. We had a tour explaining Ducks Unlimited’s projects in Delaware and in Bombay Hook, specifically. We hope to do more trips like that, where we can actually get insight on how Ducks Unlimited is getting involved and how we can help to get involved with conserving wetlands.” 

Colmorgen, who has been a member of DU since he was 12 and participated in the Greenwing program, also said that while some may look at DU as simply an organization focused on hunting, it is much more than that and he wants to help spread their message of conservation. “Ducks Unlimited was founded by hunters but it’s priority is for conservation, so we want to do a lot of hands on work -- maybe adopt a wetland on campus or go out and do work somewhere around the state in one of the main areas for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). We also want to do a lot of education for the public and for younger people.” 

Colmorgen said the University’s DU chapter offers something for everyone. “If you’re interested in the outdoors, and you might not be a CANR student, we want to offer a chance for you to learn more about wetlands. We’re trying to do activities that pretty much cover anything that anyone would be interested in with regards to wildlife and the outdoors. We really just want it to be a group that everyone can have something to relate to.” 

Getting DU to UD

Williams pointed out that the DU chapter at UD was formed in large part to efforts made by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Bill D’Alonzo, a Delaware resident who is on the national board of directors for Ducks Unlimited and who was named the 2012 Budweiser Conservationist of the Year. 

“Both Senator Coons and Bill D’Alonzo have been interested in increasing our younger citizens’ involvement in Ducks Unlimited, so a conversation was opened up in the early part of the summer to extend DU to the University of Delaware, where a waterfowl research program already exists,” said Williams. 

He explained that after a meeting with DU officials, D’Alonzo, Dan Sarkissian, director of development for CANR, and Mark Rieger, CANR dean, the decision was made to start a DU chapter at UD.  The chapter became official in October.

For those interested in joining DU, Colmorgen said to contact him or Williams and that DU will be present at the spring activities night -- scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13, at the Perkins Student Center -- during which students can learn more about campus organizations. 

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos courtesy of Chris Williams

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