As outdoors people, we have strong connections to the places that incite our passion for the wild, feed our curiosity and stir our sense of adventure. And most importantly, we are connected to places that rouse our sense of responsibility. Our experiences in the outdoors shape our lives as conservationists. Taking on the role of CEO for Ducks Unlimited Canada has been a humbling experience, and it’s made me reflect on the special places in my own life.
As the country’s leading wetland conservation organization, DUC has 78 years of history and success. I’ll admit there have been a few moments when I’ve paused and asked myself, How did I get here? Well, it’s been quite a journey, from the foothills of Alberta, where I spent much of my youth, to the marshes of Lake Manitoba—where I pulled on my first set of hip waders at a wetland and waterfowl research station—to my corner office overlooking Manitoba’s expansive Oak Hammock Marsh.
All these experiences have ingrained the need for natural places within my soul. But there’s another important place that has also helped shape me and given me a meaningful perspective on conservation. That place is the duck blind.
Compared to many waterfowl enthusiasts, I came a bit late to hunting. Still, it’s had a significant impact. It’s made me a better conservationist. Being on the marsh at first light, watching birds work the decoys and ultimately holding and examining the birds in hand, has made my principles about wildlife and habitat feel more honest, more complete.
I set out on my first hunt when I was a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan. My peers were off hunting ducks, and because I was studying ducks, I thought I’d like to try it. The part I remember most is the environment—the smells, the sounds, the people I was with. Calling in the birds, concealed below a fall prairie sky, affected me in a whole new way. More than ever, I began to understand why hunters’ ties to the land are so strong. Hunters understand the true worth of wildlife and of conservation because they take part in the waterfowl life cycle. And because of this intimate connection, they give back.
North America’s entire wildlife management field, including DUC, started with hunters. Today, they remain essential to conservation. Sharing their time, effort and financial support, hunters are largely responsible for much of the wetland conservation work that’s been carried out on this continent.
These days, work and life priorities limit the time I spend afield. But the lessons and traditions from the duck blind stick with me. They are fundamental principles of conservation that I’m proud to live by: respect the resource, enjoy the resource and give back to the resource.
Hunters represent so much of who we are, what we’ve done and all we’ve accomplished for conservation across North America. I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of generations of visionary hunters who’ve paved the way for a new era of conservation. And I pledge to do my best to live up to the high standards they’ve challenged us with.
Karla Guyn authored this guest column at the request of Outdoor Canada.
Named the new CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada this past October, Karla Guyn has a long history with the conservation organization. She first came to DUC in 1994 as a graduate student, and since then, she’s worked her way up through the ranks, contributing to various national and regional programs. Before she was named CEO, in fact, Guyn was DUC’s national director of conservation. She holds a Ph.D. in biology and is considered an international leader in wetland and waterfowl conservation.
As for DUC itself, the organization has launched some 9,900 habitat projects across Canada since its inception in 1938, conserving more than 2.6 million hectares of wetlands, grasslands and boreal forest. At the heart of DUC is a 130,000-member grassroots conservation community, which includes hunters.