A Conversation on Conservation
Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hallon the work behind the wetlands
Interview by Casey Hilder
Photos courtesy of Ducks Unlimited
On any given day, DucksUnlimited has more than 500 active conservation and restoration projects across the United States. Dale Hall is the man behind many of these projects. Hall, the former U.S. director of Fish and Wildlife under President Bush, has spent most of his life studying the wetlands sprawled across the Mid-South.
For nearly a century, Ducks Unlimited has worked to re-naturalize areas of the United States. In their most recent fiscal year, the organization totaled more 230 million in revenue, with 80 cents of every dollar raised dedicated toward the organization’s mission to deliver on-the-ground conservation and education efforts.
Click Magazine: Please share a little bit about what Ducks Unlimited does.
Dale Hall: Ducks Unlimited focuses on the conservation and restoration of wetlands, grasslands and other natural habitats across North America. Since we started in 1937, we are now approaching 14 million acres in conserved habitats across North America.
CM: What is an average day like for the CEO?
DH: It’s a blend of fundraising and seeking partnerships — we don’t do anything alone. The rest, of course, is in conservation. The conservation work itself ranges from moving projects along at the ground level or working in Washington to do some policy work. The third part is running the company. While we are a nonprofit, we’re still a business that needs to be run.
CM: How did your work with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife lead to Ducks Unlimited?
DH: My graduate degrees are in wetlands biology, which helped me along a little. But I really got started in the hills of Mississippi and living near the rivers. My first job was managing catfish farms in the Delta and my second job was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service out in Vicksburg. I worked the Yazoo basin area and saw a lot of habitats converted for farms that would eventually be reclaimed by Ducks Unlimited. The land was leveled and they eventually determined that it was too wet to work. Ducks Unlimited puts contours back in the land, replants trees and puts water back on the property – basically recreating the wetlands.
CM: Let's talk fundraising: What are some crucial events and efforts that contribute to the goal of raising money for your organization?
DH: All of our events are important. They range from small get-togethers to 1,000-plus gatherings. We start off each year assuming we’re at zero. That means we start each year assuming we need to raise several million dollars in private funding. It would be a little unfair to say any particular event is more important than the others – they’re all very dear to us and there are more than 4,000 a year. The next part is “major gifts” – these are large checks given to us by families and foundations across the country that keep Ducks Unlimited running. The third part is corporate partnerships: we work alongside a corporation and assist with their own sustainability missions. These corporations span the spectrum from the oil and gas industries, painting and coating companies, and timber companies.
CM: What does the act of conservation mean to you?
DH: Being proactive and actually going out to improve conditions. This is not environmentalism, which refers to a dependence on regulations to get the job done. This is boots-on-the-ground work here, where we actually go out and make things better instead of just being an advocate.
CM: What's your favorite kind of duck call?
DH: The one that brings ‘em in.
CM: What is the biggest challenge facing your organization?
DH: The biggest challenge facing all conservation is a lack of understanding from the general public. There’s an importance in wetlands, grasslands and nature that isn’t appreciated today. Too many urban children think their milk begins and ends in a carton at the store. Too many adults think that meat comes from the grocery store and that nothing had to die in the process. Education and understanding is definitely the biggest challenge facing us right now.
CM: What do you believe is the biggest issue facing Mid-South hunters and fishermen?
DH: I’d say there are several things, but chief among those is getting someone to take a kid hunting or fishing to gain an appreciation for our land. Children will always have some interest in that, but they need an adult role model to show them how and take them out. We work hard in our youth programs to accomplish this. While I see the reports that hunting license purchases are down and it’s trouble, I truly believe that it’s not trouble as long as we do our part to ensure there is a future generation of hunters and anglers. Part of this is making sure there is adequate public access for these sort of things.
CM: What are some of your goals as CEO of Ducks Unlimited for 2016-2017?
DH: To increase the public awareness of our brand. A lot of people think we’re simply a hunting organization and while I’ll never shy away from and fully respect the great work that hunters have done for us, we are a conservation company that goes out and does conservation work. I also would like to try to help educate the public about their resources and how important water is. These wetlands provide everything from flood damage control to clean drinking water. Again, this is something that the public is often not aware of.