By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — The welfare of ducks and their habitats has risen to new heights at SUNY Cobleskill this year.
Ducks Unlimited, a national conservation organization, this month named the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill as a “Ducks University.” SUNY Cobleskill is the only college in New York state carrying the designation.
“I’m excited,” said Michael Losito, professor and program director of Wildlife Management Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Environmental Studies at the college.
The SUNY Cobleskill club has raised more than $4,000 for Ducks Unlimited and presented a float in a holiday parade. Students have captured and banded 84 ducks, are planning a project to install wooden duck boxes for nesting and to reach out with programs on nature and conservation to local children.
The formation of the club comes as the college’s four-year wildlife management program continues to grow. Losito was hired to start the Bachelor of Technology program in 1995. The major has 110 students, graduating about 25 each year, he said, and a second faculty member will start in the fall term to help as student enrollment grows.
Losito, a Ducks Unlimited member for more than 25 years and a hunter, said Ducks Unlimited and the collegiate club are open to hunters and non-hunters. He credits SUNY Cobleskill senior Cody Davis for starting the club and students for showing leadership and participating to fill ranks to about 20 members.
Davis, who spent last summer studying ducks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks, Alaska, said having an officially recognized club is “a great opportunity.” The club will present programming to the campus and off-campus communities that will enhance wetlands conservation and duck populations, he said.
“We have a lot of great ideas,” Davis said. Two campuses in New York state previously had chapters, but the one at SUNY Cobleskill is the only currently active club, he said
Starting this spring, students will be studying wetlands in Schoharie County to identify sites to install wooden nesting boxes, Losito said. The club received a donation of 22 boxes, he said, and during the 10-year project will install them.
Two species locally that might use the boxes are the North American wood duck and the hooded merganser, Losito said. The boxes are about 26 inches tall by 15 inches wide and deep.
Boxes cannot be located where natural habitats provide nesting spaces, such as in tree cavities, Losito said. During spring and fall, the club can schedule activities based on installing, checking on and cleaning out the boxes, he said.
The Ducks University program began in 1977 at the University of Texas in Austin in 1977, according to the Ducks Unlimited website, and has 84 chapters. In 2011, those 84 chapters were responsible for raising more than $600,000 and the forecast for 2012 projects raising a similar amount.
Locally, the SUNY Cobleskill Ducks University will participate in the college’s Wildlife Festival in April, an event that is free and open to the public. Losito said the club also will host activities for Greenwings, the Ducks Unlimited organization for children, in April.
Ducks University chapters play an increasingly important role in Ducks Unlimited’s conservation mission, the organization’s website said, and collegiate programs are key to a healthy future for wetlands conservation. The clubs also provide social functions, networking opportunities and leadership development.