Restrictions could halt Ducks Unlimited project fundraising

Conservation organization Ducks Unlimited has secured funding for its ongoing projects, but fundraising could be halted due to the State of Emergency not allowing social gatherings to have more than 10 people.

Ducks Unlimited, a North American continental conservation organization, has thousands of state and local chapters financially supporting conservation projects in their respective regions. The Appoquinimink chapter in southern New Castle County area manages a wetland restoration near Smyrna, funded by their Spring Fling fundraiser.

DU and the Townsend Fire Company host the Spring Fling fundraiser, scheduled for June 6, which typically tops $100,000 each year.

In the Mid-Atlantic region DU projects are designed to maximize migration quality and quantity and improve wintering areas for waterfowl, such as American black ducks, mallards, canvasbacks and Canada geese.

Each year, local chapters host one or more fundraisers that support conservation projects and government matching grants.

Jake McPherson, Mid-Atlantic region biologist, said most of those grants need matching funds, which makes these fundraisers vital.

With the state of emergency in place until May 15 with the chance of extending, it is possible the 15-year-old fundraiser will be canceled.

Fundraising

“Ducks Unlimited’s ability to do conservation work is rooted in our grassroots system,” McPherson said. “If we wanted to do and get a 20,000 grant from the government, they typically require you to already have $20,000 to match. Without that matching, it becomes increasingly difficult to secure the public money.”

The Appo chapter scheduled its Spring Fling fundraiser June 6 at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington. It usually draws more than 4,000 that day. If gathering sizes are still restricted through June, they plan to reschedule it and hold it virtually August 15 from the Townsend Fire Company.

McPherson said with social distancing and gathering sizes limited, DU conservation “could very well be affected” if they don’t secure the local income. Projects already occurring will not stop.

“We have active grants now, while we are experiencing this whole social distancing thing, we are still able to fund those projects that are already underway,” he said. “The funding is already secured. It’s not like we come to a grinding halt or anything.”

Appo chapter chairwoman Danielle Hufford said the last Spring Fling — one of six fundraisers each year — raised about $140,000. She said last year’s was the number eight in the country based on dollars raised at a single event.

“That’s against Seattle, Baton Rouge and other large places across the country,” she said.

Hufford said they are on track with ticket sales through March, but expects the sales to be low for April due to the pandemic.

Although fewer than 5,000 show up in person, Townsend Fire Company board member Rick Clark said they typically sell 10,000 tickets. Whatever they pull in, each organization gets half.

“They’ve been able to save a lot of wetlands [with the money],” he said.

Restoration projects

McPherson said no projects are specifically associated with the Appo chapter, but they help with funding local projects, like one near Smyrna that chairwoman Hufford manages.

Not all money from the Spring Fling funds it, but it helps with the restoration of the Delaware Emergency Management wetlands just north of Smyrna, off of Rt. 1, dating to the early 2000s. McPherson said one of their volunteers told him the area appeared to be overgrown with undesirable vegetation and unmanaged water levels.

McPherson said the project has been getting more attention recently. “The intent was to restore the area which had been cleared for building Rt. 1,” the regional biologist said. “However, since [its completion] there have been many changes in staff with Ducks Unlimited and DEMA … [DEMA] was in charge of managing the area, and it kind of fell by the wayside.”

McPherson said DU and DEMA are working collaboratively to restore the wetlands.

“It didn't look like the wetland it was supposed to be,” McPherson said. “Now if you drive by it you would see that it’s wetland, but there are a lot of nuanced things they are working on that people might not be able to see from the highway.”

Jeff Sands, DEMA community relations director, said in an email DEMA representatives reached out to DU last year to renew their partnership managing the wetlands adjacent to their building.

"Our team had the opportunity to meet with Ducks Unlimited biologist Jake McPherson to look at the site and discuss management strategies to ensure the optimal environment," he said. "The team from Ducks Unlimited and their volunteers bring a wealth of knowledge about wetland management and we look forward to continuing to work with them."

McPherson said they are focused on water level management for now and are hoping to work on plant rejuvenation.

In the fall of 2019, DU received a $100,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund to restore about 100 acres of habitats at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Milton.

According to DU’s Mid-Atlantic region 2020 conservation report, they were working on 10 projects consisting of 737 acres in 2019, investing more than $1.3 million. In total, the region has invested $17.9 into 310 projects conserving about 78,000 acres.

Hufford said about 935 acres have been restored in New Castle County.