Does Dale Hall have a favorite type of duck? Some days it might be a shoveler. Others, it could be a gadwall, or even a pintail. At the end of the day, though, Hall prefers any bird that might wander through the American Wetlands. If there are waterfowl, that means he and Ducks Unlimited are on the right track.
Ducks Unlimited, an organization that began in the early twentieth century when Americans saw the adverse effect the dust bowl had on the environment, is dedicated to conserving wetlands across North America. To date, the nonprofit has worked in over 14 million acres across Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
Hall will step down as CEO of Ducks Unlimited next year after a decade in the position. In a recent interview, he reflected on how his passion for the outdoors led to heading an organization that is devoted to conservation, and how he has honed his talents as a fundraiser to keep that mission going.
Before Ducks Unlimited, he had a 30-plus-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was eventually asked by President George W. Bush to lead the agency, which he did from 2005 to 2009.
Hall has a long history with the outdoors stretching back to his childhood, when he would hunt and fish while growing up by the Cumberland River in Eastern Kentucky. His interest in the wetlands was sparked while attending Louisiana State University, and from there he went into Fish and Wildlife, going all over the United States and spending time in Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Oregon, Atlanta, and Alaska. After stepping down as director of the agency, Ducks Unlimited thought he would be the perfect candidate for its vacant CEO position. His insights and experience were crucial in running the Rescue Our Wetlands campaign, the organization’s flagship, seven-year initiative that aims to bring in $2 billion to invest in conservation. The nonprofit says it expects to reach that goal.
Hall points to water issues as one of the biggest problems he’s seen during his tenure, and hopes the campaign, which began in 2012 but went public in 2015, will help fix that. “The water issue we’re facing is the largest of the century,” says Hall. “Wetlands are nature’s sponges; they hold back water from a flood. They act as kidneys, purifying the water and taking toxins out of it and keeping rivers cleaner and removing sediment.” For most Americans, Hall says, the water they get out of the faucet is from groundwater sourced from the wetlands, as opposed to surface water. More than just helping wildlife, maintaining these wetlands is crucial to providing healthy drinking water for people, too.
Over the course of the campaign, Hall has stressed the importance of conveying to the public a better grasp of the work Ducks Unlimited is doing. In addition to conservation, it sponsors programs like the Greenwing Program, which brings in youth to learn more about conservation and make the organization’s ecological endeavors more transparent. “We want the public to understand our natural purification systems that are already out there, and are much cheaper than installing a treatment plant in a city.”
That education ties in to Hall’s personal involvement in fundraising: “Our main challenge is to have the people understand what we do, why we do it, and why it’s important to them. My approach when I go talk to someone, whether it’s an individual or another CEO, is to go in and tell them what exactly we do with their money and talk to them about the wetlands and why they are so important.”
The Rescue the Wetlands campaign will end next year, and with it Hall’s position at the head of Ducks Unlimited. “With the close of the campaign approaching, I thought about it and decided that it would be the right time to step down as CEO next June,” he says. “Then the next CEO can come in and start leading his own pathway with whatever we do for our next campaign, and we’ll be able to continue the progress that we’ve made to get people even more excited and get them to understand the importance of these great habitats.”
Hall will continue his involvement with Ducks Unlimited and the outdoors. He plans to volunteer extensively with the organization and continue to serve on various boards for wetlands and wildlife. On a more recreational side, many of the members of Hall’s hunting club are themselves Ducks Unlimited employees. Finally, he has ideas for a book incorporating many of the experiences he’s had while traveling across the country for work. “I’ve been blessed in my life to be involved with teams that have addressed almost every issue we’ve faced from a natural resource standpoint,” says Hall, “from the Everglades, to Chesapeake Bay, all the way to the Hawaiian habitats. I think there are some good stories in there about the people that I’ve been able to work with and how the teams dealt with those issues.”
At the end of his career, it’s clear that Ducks Unlimited has left an indelible impression. “Ducks Unlimited and the people here have been the blessing of my professional career,” he says. “It’s always been fun, and people are always wanting to just give back. They just want to make a difference. And I’m not sure what else any of us could ask for.”