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Ducks Unlimited impacts hemisphere, raises funds locally

Feb. 2—The work and contributions of local enthusiasts helps protect more than 15 million acres of wetlands and waterfowl nesting grounds all across the continent. It also helps facilitate public hunting right here at home. That dual mission takes another step forward in a couple weeks when the Tombigbee River Valley Chapter of Ducks Unlimited opens its annual banquet.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. on Feb. 17 at the Tupelo Cotton Mill, in Mill Village near downtown Tupelo at 300 Elliot Street. Tickets are $50 for singles, $70 for couples and $25 for youth 16 and under. Each ticket includes the evening meal and an annual membership in Ducks Unlimited. Tickets are available at the door and in advance online at ducks.org under the "Events" tab. This year's title sponsor is First South Farm Credit, through Michael Joslin in the company's Aberdeen office.

The local Ducks Unlimited chapter fundraiser, one of hundreds held each year nationwide, will feature a catered meal set in a social gathering, accompanied by raffles and both live and silent auctions. Local organizers create a family-friendly atmosphere and are especially proud of the youth members brought in. Ducks Unlimited members ages 16 and under are termed "Greenwings." They receive special attention at banquets and take part in youth-oriented events throughout the year.

"We put a big spotlight on the Greenwings at our event," said local member and event organizer Maury Giachelli. "Tupelo has the largest Greenwing group of any chapter in Mississippi. Our banquets are very family-friendly, and we want them to be a part of it."

The Tombigbee River Valley chapter typically sees between 15 and 30 youth members in attendance every year. Total attendance numbers roughly 150 to 175. Special seating for Greenwings, along with special raffles and auction items just for youngsters, are a big part of the draw.

Local youth

The local chapter's annual banquet includes a special raffle for a Greenwing gun. Last year's youth gun was a .410 over and under. Jamison Parker, with Gold & Gun Pawn in Tupelo, is sponsoring the firearm elements of the event.

"It's all about getting our kids into the outdoors and into a conservation mindset," Giachelli said.

The opportunity for youngsters to see and experience excellent waterfowl hunting here in Mississippi is a key element of that. To that end, along with extensive ongoing projects at many of the state's public waterfowl-hunting-friendly Wildlife Management Areas, Ducks Unlimited has partnered with state wildlife officials for many years to produce a youth waterfowl hunting camp. The annual camp event includes instruction across a wide variety of conservation and practical hunting topics. It's been a hit from day one.

Additionally, the local chapter has completed three Greenwing projects at WMAs and other public waterfowl hunting grounds around the state, and a fourth project is in the works.

Hunters everywhere

Statewide, Mississippians have supported the Ducks Unlimited mission in a big way. Last year, Mississippi's local events combined to raise more than $1.2 million. Of that, 85 percent is dedicated strictly to boots-on-the-ground conservation work.

Ducks Unlimited got its start in 1937 when a small group of hunters joined forces to conserve the game they loved during the epic drought and erosion conditions of the Dust Bowl. Today, the group has grown to a membership of nearly 600,000 and has permanently conserved more than 15 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America.

In Mississippi alone, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 349,000 acres of prime duck nesting area and migrating habitat. That's more than 545 square miles of ground. Through the years they have spent $58 million here in Mississippi. Those efforts are part of their work throughout the Mississippi Flyway, one of the major migratory corridors for waterfowl on the move between the sub-arctic tundra and the Gulf of Mexico. In the entirety of the Mississippi Flyway, Ducks Unlimited has conserved a total of 2.19 million acres and spent $654 million over the years.

For more information, contact Giachelli at 256-717-9540 or John Curlee at 662-213-3178.

Kevin is the weekend edition editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at kevin.tate@journalinc.com.