New Jersey is an objectively beautiful state, and not just because of its world-renowned beaches. It’s also home to 900,000 acres of wetlands, which provide rich habitats for an array of wildlife. So anyone who wants to hunt waterfowl in these invaluable resources must buy a “duck stamp,” with proceeds used exclusively for waterfowl conservation and projects to restore and protect wetlands.
That’s all well and good. But the price of the New Jersey Waterfowl Stamp is only $5 for residents and $10 for nonresidents — the same as it was in 1996.
Let’s put that in perspective. In 1996, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had just won their fourth NBA Championship. Windows 95 and America Online were revolutionizing the way we use computers, and a new concept called the internet was beginning to take root in homes across America. The Macarena was taking the dance world by storm, and Braveheart won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. To see the movie in the theater, you’d pay an average of $4.42. By 2019, it was more than double that amount ($9.16).
Like most things, inflation over the last few decades has weakened the value of the dollar, and the revenue generated through the duck stamp has not kept pace with inflation.
After 25 years of stagnation, we believe it’s time to increase the fee for the New Jersey duck stamp — from $5 to $10 for residents and from $10 to $15 for nonresidents. The New Jersey legislature has a chance to do just that by passing Assembly Bill 3897 and Senate Bill 3263. The good news: Most hunters in New Jersey already support a duck stamp fee increase, as a way to provide more support and protection for waterfowl habitat.
Although the duck season may last only two months, the duck stamp’s impact on the state economy is felt year-round. In 2020 alone, 11,500 stamps were sold in New Jersey, with all money raised mandated by law to be used exclusively for wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Since 1984, New Jersey duck stamp dollars have helped purchase 17,000 acres of critical wetlands throughout the state and put it in the public land system, where it’s open for all uses. Resident hunters, outdoor recreationists, and out-of-state visitors alike spend millions of dollars in these rural communities each year.
The duck stamp’s connection to waterfowl conservation cannot be overstated. Since 1970, North America has lost nearly three billion birds, or more than one in four. One exception is in waterfowl populations, which have seen a noticeable increase, thanks in part to efforts like the state duck stamp.
Keeping waterfowl populations as strong as they are today won’t be possible without an increase in the duck stamp price. That’s because the cost of conservation is staggering: Since the late 1980s, Ducks Unlimited alone has invested $7 million to restore and protect New Jersey’s wetlands.
It’s a worthy investment: Wetlands help our communities by filtering water, mitigating the impact of floods, and reducing damage from severe storms. When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the Eastern United States in 2012, wetlands prevented an estimated $625 million in flood damage.
While the New Jersey duck stamp may not have the same lasting cultural impact as Michael Jordan or Braveheart, odds are many of our most nostalgic memories don’t originate from a movie theater. For us, those memories come from spending time in the storied marshes of our state, where we can kayak, fish, birdwatch, or just take a walk. A modest increase to the New Jersey duck stamp is a reasonable way to help ensure experiences, memories, and traditions remain uninterrupted for years to come.
Scott Paterson is a senior volunteer at New Jersey Ducks Unlimited. Drew Tompkins is the director of policy at New Jersey Audubon.