CONYERS -- Ducks Unlimited has restored and protected 12.4 million acres of duck habitat in North America and has done it with local annual fundraisers such as the Rockdale County Chapter's banquet, which will be held on March 14 at the Stone Mountain Harley Davidson.
Founded in 1937, Ducks Unlimited is the world's leading nonprofit wetlands conservation organization. Founder Joseph Knapp, with the help of industrialist J.P. Morgan, started Ducks Unlimited in response to the devastation caused by the Dust Bowl. Currently headquartered in Memphis, the sportsmen's conservation group has more than 600,000 members and annually raises almost $200 million to purchase and protect waterfowl habitat.
Some have questioned the logic of duck hunters working so hard to protect duck habitat. Local Chairman Gregg Meadows explained that Ducks Unlimited is not just for duck hunters.
"I'm not a duck hunter. I've never been duck hunting in my life," he said. "The attraction for me is preserving my country. I am a hunter; I'm just not a duck hunter."
By protecting wetlands, Ducks Unlimited preserves habitat for more than 900 other species, including fish, deer, turkeys, and alligators.
"Some of the land is not even open to Ducks Unlimited hunters," said Meadows. "Some people think we buy all this land just so we can go out and hunt on it. The majority of the land is not even huntable. It will never be anything but just perfect, peaceful land for the ducks."
The majority of Ducks Unlimited protected land is located in Canada but Meadows explained why this benefits U.S. ducks.
"Ducks are a migratory bird. They come to the United States for the winter. A lot of our money is spent in Canada for that reason. That's where their home is. When they're here, they're on vacation," he said.
Meadows and other local Ducks Unlimited leaders are volunteers and they stress that all of the money raised at the local banquet will go directly to the national office for habitat preservation.
"Even the committee members have to buy their own ticket," said Meadows. Eighty-one percent of all money nationally goes to purchase and protect wetlands. Only 3 percent is used for administration, making Ducks Unlimited one of the most efficient non-profit organizations.
Ducks Unlimited partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission to maintain protected land.
"It will never, ever be anything but wetlands," said Meadows.
"I've been involved in several organizations in the past," said Conyers veterinarian Gaines White, "but this is the most fun and the most productive I've ever been a part of. We're able to raise $20,000 to $30,000 in one night."
Meadows explained how this is done by selling tickets to the event, which will include both a silent and a live auction. Ducks Unlimited will also raffle wildlife and sporting art, 16 firearms, goods such as oil paintings, tables, chairs, and musical instruments, and services donated by area businesses.
Along with Meadows and White, the local leadership committee includes Sam Horsley, Mike Quakenbush owner of Honey Creek Automotive, Co-chairman Darren Taylor, and Don Wallen. There are currently 96 members of the Conyers chapter.
"We can't sell alcohol," Meadows said, "but we sell cups for $10 and you can fill it with your choice of beverage."
Budweiser is supplying the banquet with beer, free of charge to Ducks Unlimited.
"We also have Cokes, tea, and coffee for non-drinkers," he added. "We'll have a real good dinner."
Although the contract has not yet been signed, Meadows indicated the banquet will most likely be catered this year by Bradley's Bar-b-que on Sigman Road.
Tickets to the Ducks Unlimited Annual Fundraising Banquet are $65 per person/$100 per couple and may be purchased by calling Meadows at 770-899-3664, 770-648-8253, at G&R Muffler on Royal Drive, or calling Taylor at 770-262-0796. The banquet is open to the public and Meadows expects an attendance of over 300 local residents since he is increasing the amount of advertising being purchased for this year's Conyers banquet. Every ticket to the banquet includes a membership in Ducks Unlimited. Members receive a newsletter and discounts at local hunting supply stores.
Corporate tables are available and come with 10 tickets, a personalized wood duck, and $100 worth of raffle tickets for $550 or a half table for $300 with five tickets.
"We'd like you to R.S.V.P.," Meadows concluded, "simply so we know we have enough food."
Tickets may also be purchased at the door.