IT’S OBVIOUS that people from every corner of the United States are connecting more and more with the wetland conservation mission of Ducks Unlimited (DU).

That’s the bottom line summary given recently by Steve Kresl of Eagle River, DU’s senior regional director for northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the past 24 years.

“We’ve just completed nine straight years of awesome growth,” said Kresl. “The last fiscal year set an all-time record for fundraising, grew membership to more than 720,000 and led to the conservation of 400,000 wetland acres in a single year.”

One of the highest ranked charitable organizations in the world, more than 83 cents of every dollar raised went to the mission of wetland conservation.

Making that feat possible is an army of unpaid volunteers, more than 56,000 strong, who donate countless hours as chapter committee members that organize banquets and other fundraising events.

“I’m working with some volunteers who are going on 50 years with DU, and not all of them hunt ducks,” said Kresl. “Nobody gets more credit than the volunteers. I’m proud and grateful for what they’ve done and continue to do every year for wetland habitat conservation.”

Kresl said the organization is “lean and mean at the top,” with only 3% of the revenues being spent on administration and human resources. The board of directors is composed entirely of volunteers who pay for all their travel, including six to 10 national meetings each year.

Ducks Unlimited got its start in 1937 during the Dust Bowl when North America’s drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows, almost beyond recovery.

It’s also true that 97% of the members are waterfowl hunters who want to ensure that ducks and geese will always fill the flyways in fall. America’s love for ducks and duck hunting has much to do with the enthusiasm.

Yet the organization’s mission to conserve wetland habitats has become the greater cause, as wetlands improve the overall health of our environment by recharging and purifying groundwater, moderating floods and reducing soil erosion.

Wetlands support more than 900 species of wildlife. They are North America’s most productive ecosystems.

That’s the greater story of DU, which has preserved more than 14.47 million acres of marshlands and grasslands in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Waterfowl production and the opportunity to win guns and other great prizes still remain the key to filling rooms for chapter fundraising banquets, which are held in virtually every community in the North Woods.

From Eagle River and Sugar Camp to Sayner, Land O’ Lakes and Boulder Junction, there are hundreds of local residents who work and/or attend fundraising banquets for this international organization. That includes a Ladies Chapter in the Three Lakes-Eagle River area.

Rhinelander had its event Tuesday of this week and Eagle River has a sponsor event scheduled Sept. 19, two days before Crandon stages its annual banquet.

Kresl said the latest numbers show Wisconsin has 35,310 members and 147 chapters who raise more than $3 million each year for the ducks. There are nearly 2,300 committee volunteers in Wisconsin alone.

A sizeable chunk of the money raised over the years has been spent in the boreal forest and prairie pothold regions of western states and Canada, where seven out of every 10 ducks, and most geese, come from.

But DU has spent more than $31 million to conserve 118,092 acres of wetlands in Wisconsin.

Projects nearest to this area in­clude Thunder Lake Marsh, Briss Lake Impoundment, Alvin Creek Impoundment, Scott Creek Impoundment, the Hiles Millpond project and others between Three Lakes and Crandon.

DU has its own engineers and biologists, and the organization only commits to projects that bring the biggest impact for the least amount invested.

“Every dollar we spend is leveraged at least three to four times with the help of public and private funding sources,” said Kresl.

Waterfowl are the big beneficiaries, evidenced by booming populations that have led to 18 years of 60-day duck seasons, a six-duck daily bag limit and more than 100 days of Canada goose hunting in most years.

That’s the highest combined Wisconsin waterfowl hunting opportunity in more than 60 years.

Why would any duck hunter not support their own cause? The cost for a DU membership isn’t much more than a couple boxes of steel shot.

Fundraising events focus mostly on member and sponsor banquets, but volunteers also coordinate shooting competitions, fishing tournaments and golf outings.

Unfortunately, the United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands, and tens of thousands of wetland acres continue to be lost — at an accelerating rate — each year.

The simple, well-stated vision of DU is “wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”

After decades of sticking with the same mission, DU has created a conservation legacy like no other in the world. It’s called wetland habitat conservation and anyone can be a part of it.

The group’s supporters come from every walk of life and they don’t all hunt ducks. Anyone can join the cause.