Bing Teage loves ducks: ducks in paintings, duck decoys, stuffed ducks and even the yellow “Duck Crossing” sign in his driveway. His decades-long obsession with everything “ducky” puts him in the perfect place to have recently accepted a position with the Ducks Unlimited national board of directors.
It all began almost 50 years ago when, as a college student, Bing went along with his father on a duck hunting trip to Saskatchewan, Canada. “It was the very best place in the world for waterfowl,” he recalls. “I was so impressed, I’ve gone back every year since.”
Not long after that first trip, Bing attended the first meeting of the local chapter of Ducks Unlimited (DU) and loved it. “The banquet was at the Claridge Motor Inn downtown,” he says. “I enjoyed that; the banquet was fun. I’ve been involved ever since.
“It’s a wonderful organization, and not just for duck hunters,” he says. “Probably less than 30 or 40 percent of our membership are hunters. We have ornithologists and conservationists and people who just enjoy walking in the marsh to see the red-winged blackbirds.”
DU recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, one of the oldest and most successful conservation organizations in the country, according to Bing. “The primary focus of DU is to preserve wetland habitat,” he explains. “It was first organized in 1937 during the Dust Bowl, when some guys in New York decided to try to do something about the problem.
“Wetlands are like big sponges,” he continues. “They prevent flooding, they produce carbon dioxide, they support plant and animal diversity; you can go on and on about how important these areas are to all of us.”
Over the years, Bing continued to volunteer and worked his way up in the DU organization. “All of a sudden, it was my turn to be state chairman,” he says. “Fortunately, it was the best of times. The economy was strong and I can’t take all the credit, but we raised $5 million, an all-time record.”
Fund raising is one of the cornerstones of DU. The group’s policy of collaboration, of reaching out to communities and businesses, hosting popular banquets with auctions and raffles all contribute to their success, according to Bing.
The annual Rhinelander DU banquet continues to be one of Bing’s favorite events. “We hope to get even more folks to join us this year on Tuesday, September 10, at the Northwoods Banquet Center. We have great food, a raffle and silent auction-it’s a lot of fun.
“The best thing about DU is that over 80 percent of every DU dollar collected goes into conservation programs-right into the ground,” he says. To date, that amounts to 6 million acres in the United States, 100,000 of those in Wisconsin.
The Northwoods is actually not one of the prime areas for DU projects. “We sponsor more projects in quality waterfowl habitat at Horicon Marsh and Green Bay and along the Mississippi River,” Bing notes. “We’ve had just three or four projects here, including Spruce Lake in the Woodboro/Harshaw area.”
Canada contains most of the prime habitat for waterfowl breeding during the summer months, and the United States DU contributes funds to the Canadian DU organization. “We are also involved with DU in Mexico, where many migratory birds spend their winters,” says Bing. “We’ve pretty much got North America covered.”
Another cornerstone of DU is the fact that almost everyone involved, including members like Bing who travel to meetings, host fundraisers and spread the DU message, are volunteers contributing their own time and effort to the cause.
The small paid staff of DU includes biologists who recommend actions based on real science. Those actions often involve working with farmers, developers and even government highway departments to find the best ways to help save wetland habitat.
“Things are tough right now,” says Bing. “The agriculture business always wants more land; they want to drain marshes and move their big machines in.
“We try to educate farmers, talk about no-till methods and about how important wild grasslands are to protect nesting birds. It’s hardest with the small farms: those guys are trying to send their kids to college, and want to plant all the land they can. Corporate farms work well with us. They are sometimes more flexible in giving up some acreage or mitigating wetlands when they can.”
DU is also a strong lobbying force in state and federal legislatures. “Our events in Washington are very well attended,” says Bing. “Everybody likes a good party.”
Just recently, Bing received some more good news. As part of his involvement with the national DU board, he will serve on the Youth and Education Committee. Having four grandsons, Bing knows the importance of getting the next generation away from video games and outside.
“Mentoring my own grandsons, taking them hunting and fishing in the out-of-doors, makes me want to help other kids,” he says. “Our Green Wing program promotes DU to youth with a magazine called The Puddler. We need to introduce the next generation-or two-to DU to keep going.”
Modern communication will help Bing with his new DU duties, although he says he and his wife Ellie will attend a few meetings a year around the country. “We’ll turn them into vacations,” he says, “stay a few days longer and look around. Now that our grandsons are a little older, they don’t need us so much anymore. It’s a good time to get more involved.”
Ducks will, no doubt, continue to fascinate Bing. “They are wonderful creatures,” he says. “I’ll keep driving Ellie crazy collecting memorabilia.”
It’s pretty clear that Ellie doesn’t mind so much. She says his love of ducks is his calling; his involvement with Ducks Unlimited, his destiny.
Sue Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce and Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond magazines.