If you remember, I wrote a piece in the November issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine spotlighting what waterfowl hunters might expect to see during the 2022-23 season. One of my sources, as he is each year, was Brandon Reishus, the migratory bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
As our conversation back in October wound down, Reishus asked if I’d entertain the thought of serving as one of the judges for his state’s annual conservation stamp artwork competition; that is, their waterfowl, upland game bird and habitat conservation stamps. Both honored and flattered that he would ask, I said I’d be happy to help. I mean, how tough could this be?
Oh, I knew exactly how challenging the task Reishus asked of me could be, having served in a similar capacity some 15 years ago for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Determining – or rather, helping determine – the very best from among entries I’d describe as “excellent,” “excellent,” and “excellent” is difficult. Extremely difficult.
However, I welcomed the opportunity, and on November 4 I found myself at ODFW field headquarters in Salem. I was greeted by Mikal Cline, ODFW game bird coordinator and a talented biologist who formerly served with the National Wild Turkey Federation. I’d worked via telephone with Kline several times over the past half a dozen years but we’d never met. Thirty seconds in, I thought the day was a win for me already.
Also there to make me welcome was Kelly Walton, ODFW assistant game bird biologist; Emily VanWyk, conservation strategy species coordinator; and Roxann Borish, a wonderfully pleasant lady and wearer of multitudinous hats, including that of the agency’s rules coordinator and overseer of all things falconry.
In front of me and arranged about the room were 71 incredible works of art. Entries for 2022 had been submitted by folks from around the nation and in three categories – waterfowl, upland game bird, and habitat conservation. The subject upon which all artists would focus for the waterfowl category was the greater scaup. For upland birds, the mountain quail. And for the habitat conservation work, the subject could be any one of the 294 species – plants, birds, animals, invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians – listed as part of ODFW’s Conservation Strategy (oregonconservationstrategy.org/ ocs-strategy-species), Chinook to Columbia Gorge caddisflies, Rocky Mountain bighorns to Willamette daisies.
My fellow judges were an impressive and talented lot consisting of Buck Spencer, a wildlife artist from Junction City; Rich Anglin, retired ODFW Wildlife Division administrator; Dr. Leslie King, Fish and Wildlife Commission member; and Jen Davis, regional director for the Oregon-based American Bird Conservancy.
Selecting top stamps was simple.
1) We were given five poker chips, and instructed to choose our “top five” from each category based on, obviously, those we deemed most outstanding. I, as I believe were my fellow judges, was looking at overall composition. Essentially, did the work catch my eye, appear true to life, and make me stop and say “Wow!” under my breath? Most did, and therein lies the challenge.
2) With round 1 compete, the administrators for the competition pulled those five works receiving the most poker chips, i.e. “votes,” and brought those to the forefront. These five, then, were judged on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) using specific criteria, including artistic composition; anatomical accuracy; general rendering; habitat accuracy; and general appeal.
3) Once those numbers were compiled, the three entries in each category with the highest total were then ranked first, second and third place.
Easy? Oh, the process is elemental; however, at least for me, choosing between the aforementioned “excellent No. 1, 2 and 3” was the tough part. Eventually, though, the winning entries were determined.
Waterfowl: Frank Dolphens of Omaha, Nebraska – greater scaup
Upland Game Bird: Marissa Gibson of Springfield, Oregon – mountain quail
Habitat Conservation: Chris Goins of Sheridan, Arkansas – western gray squirrel
Artists receive a $2,000 monetary award for their winning work. Winning artwork in each category is reproduced on stamps, an offshoot of ODFW’s validation requirement for those hunting migratory waterfowl or upland birds, with the exception of the Habitat Conservation Stamp, which is not required for any outdoor activity, but is a means by which the state agency raises money, with the help of the general public, for native fish and wildlife conservation programs. Monies raised by the sale of all three stamps helps provide funding for ODFW-conducted research, surveys and habitat improvement.
As an aside, I must have chosen well – yes, a pat on my own back! – and exhibited a reasonably skilled eye at judging artistic talent, as the first-place winners in each category were among my personal top two when everything was said and done. Will I be painting a stamp for the competition any time soon? That’s a negative, but I wouldn’t mind being asked back to judge entries.