In The Pipeline: A week of ducks and dribblers

September 10, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

Next week, we're fortunate to have not one but two special author appearances at Barnes & Noble at Bella Terra.

At 7 p.m. Sept. 18, Martin J. Smith, editor-in-chief of Orange Coast magazine, will discuss and sign his new book, "The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest."

The next day, at 7 p.m. Sept. 19, Ann Meyers Drysdale, one of the greatest stars in the history of basketball, will discuss and sign her book, "You Let Some Girl Beat You?"

I spoke with the authors this week after reading their books, both of which I found extremely compelling, albeit in different ways.

Smith's book, which started as a magazine piece in Orange Coast, delves into the fascinating world of competitive duck painting as it played out during the 2010 Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Interestingly, this is the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government.


Since 1934, the duck stamp, which is bought annually by hunters to certify their hunting license, has generated more than $750 million, and 98 cents of each collected dollar has been used to help purchase or lease 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S., which is the core of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It's a small subject, the competition, but it casts a very large shadow.

Smith told me that today, his concerns are on the fact that such a remarkably efficient program is actually at risk of being eliminated, due not just to the waning numbers of hunters and stamp collectors, but also to a looming "cut government spending" mentality that exists in some corners.

Since 2009, when he started the project, Smith has become fascinated with this "fragile piece of Americana," as he describes it. At first, he was intrigued by the colorful cast of characters, but then his appreciation grew as he realized the monumental amount of good the program does.

And he also gained a new perspective on hunting, which he was not much of a fan of before he wrote this truly captivating book.

As he told me, "78 years ago, hunters decided to tax themselves. They said, 'Hey, we use this resource, and for the privilege of using this resource, as long as the taxes go to protecting this resource, we'll support this.' Such a simple idea. The money has gone to creating a good chunk of the wildlife refuges, and this ethic has been passed it down to kids.

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