Wildlife ecology professor fosters community engagement through wetlands conservation

UD's Chris Williams, who is fostering community engagement through wetlands conservation, speaks at the fall Ducks Unlimited banquet.In 2015, the University of Delaware was recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for excellence in community engagement efforts put forth by the students, faculty and staff at the University. This takes the form of collaboration between higher education and the larger community to expand knowledge and collaborative resources.

Rising to the bar of increased community engagement, Chris Williams, a professor of wildlife ecology who also oversees a waterfowl and upland gamebird research program in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has been working to expand the scholarship of discovery, application and integration by not only researching and teaching about waterfowl ecology but also engaging students and the community to participate in wetlands conservation.

Four years ago, Williams helped to form a registered student organization (RSO) on campus that is affiliated with the national non-profit organization Ducks Unlimited, whose goal is to promote and conserve the nation’s wetlands.

“We strive to preserve and protect all the waterfowl, wildlife, unique plants, amphibians, reptiles and other species that depend upon wetland ecosystems through education, hands-on wetland restoration projects, fieldtrips, and fundraising,” said Williams.

Williams also created the Blue Hen Ducks Unlimited Banquet four years ago as an independent fundraising event to bring together University professors, alumni, students and members of the community who are concerned about wetland health to raise money for wetland purchase and conservation.

The Ducks Unlimited student RSO members also volunteer their time to help with this independent event. The fourth annual dinner was held this fall at Schaefer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City, Maryland.

“While education and research of waterfowl and wetlands is critically important, I believe it is paramount that we also strive for a broader community engagement to assure our wetland resources will be present and in better condition for the next generation,” said Williams.

The fourth annual dinner had multiple raffles, a silent auction and a live auction that included many one-of-a-kind items, including UD themed items such as a corn hole set, custom UD duck call and blue and gold duck decoy.

The banquet raised about $13,000, bringing the four-year total to about $36,000. Given that Ducks Unlimited uses 82 cents of every dollar collected toward wetland purchase and restoration and they often match this money with one-to-one federal dollars via the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Blue Hen dinner has effectively contributed nearly $60,000 toward the improvement of the nation’s wetlands over its history, Williams said.

“Not only do I hope we have made a real difference for our nation’s wetlands, but I hope this effort serves as a role model for better community engagement for the entire UD community,” Williams said.

For more information on Ducks Unlimited, contact Williams at ckwillia@udel.edu or 302-831-4592.

Article by Adam Thomas

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