ST. LOUIS — Artists will no longer have to incorporate hunting imagery to win a coveted spot for their work on the federal duck stamp, a reversal of a Trump-era requirement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it’s eliminating the “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage” theme from its annual Federal Duck Stamp contest, a change that goes into effect after this year’s competition. The Biden administration said this week that artists competing to have their work featured on the stamp will “have more freedom of expression” without a mandate to include a gun, dog or some other hunting component.
Since it was established in the 1930s, the duck stamp has generated more than $1.1 billion for conservation efforts, including the preservation of roughly 6 million acres of wetlands, according to the service.
Waterfowl hunters who are at least 16 years old are required to buy the $25 stamp to hunt. The stamps are also sought after by others including conservation supporters and collectors who just appreciate the striking artwork.
When the Trump administration enacted the hunting imagery requirement in 2020, it said it was helping recognize the role hunters play in conservation efforts. But some groups including the National Audubon Society opposed the move, saying it unnecessarily stirred up political controversy.
“It is the birds themselves that unite both birders and hunters and that is what should be celebrated in the duck stamp,” said Erik Schneider, policy manager at the National Audubon Society.
The Biden administration said some artists were unhappy about the hunting requirement and that the rule change will help the stamps appeal to a broader audience.
Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands and waterfowl conservation organization that also works with hunters, supported the Trump administration requirement, saying it helped honor the stamp’s hunting heritage.
But Nick Wiley, chief operating officer of Ducks Unlimited, said the group is OK with the Biden administration’s decision and that the program’s conservation benefits are more important than the debate over hunting’s place in the contest.
“The key point here is that it is not taking away hunting. It is continuing to allow the flexibility for artists to include hunting and give a nod to the hunting heritage,” he said.
The service said a hunting component was part of the 2018 contest before the theme was made permanent in 2020. It said some supporters of the requirement had the “mistaken impression” that it was a traditional part of the decades-old program. Many groups purchase duck stamps, but the service said hunters are its largest buyers.
Duck stamps go on sale each summer before the hunting season. The hunting theme requirement is still part of this year’s competition, which will be judged next month.
Contest winners aren’t paid, but they keep the rights to their work and can sell it to collectors. Winning also brings attention. A trio of brothers have collectively won the contest 13 times, gaining acclaim within the wildlife art community and even a mention in the 1996 film “Fargo.”
One of those brothers, Robert Hautman of Minnesota, had his work featured on the 2018-2019 stamp, his third time winning the contest. He said the competition is a “great environmental success story” but the hunting imagery requirement wasn’t necessary.
Hand-drawn submissions must be 7 inches by 10 inches and the winning pieces are eventually shrunk down for reproduction on a stamp. Artists are required to feature at least one of several chosen waterfowl, so additional elements must be drawn to a small scale that does not “disrupt the whole painting,” Hautman said. It is an added obstacle.
“It is something that I don’t think needs to be in there for a duck stamp,” Hautman said.