The 2016 Florida Junior Duck Stamp of Faith Noelle Malfa, 14, first place in Group 3 and Florida Fourth Best of Show. DDWS photo
The 2016 Florida Junior Duck Stamp of Faith Noelle Malfa, 14, first place in Group 3 and Florida Fourth Best of Show. DDWS photo

The Santiva Chronicle begins today its fourth year of presenting the top 100 Florida Junior Duck Stamps for the current school year. We begin the presentation of the 2017 Junior Duck Stamps with the Florida Best of Show Junior Duck Stamp of 15-year-old Faith Noelle Malfa of the Pasco Fine Arts Center of New Port Richey.

This year's Junior Duck Stamps were judged by an expert panel at the J.N. 'Ding' Darling NWR on March 30. The refuge and the 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge coordinate and administer the JDS judging in Florida each year. The Junior Duck Stamps are presented here through the cooperation of the refuge and DDWS.

Two years ago her duck stamp was honorable mention. Last year she was fourth best of show and now she is the state champion.

Faith's winning duck stamp advanced to compete against the other 51 Best of Shows from across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands at the national judging in Charleston, S.C.

The carefully selected judges in the Florida judging picked winners in four age groups and then a Best of Show from among 2,882 entries that came in from all over the Sunshine State.

The judges ultimately selected 100 winners, 25 from each of the four age groups. From those 25 came three first, three second and three third place winners. Five best of show duck stamps were selected from among the 12 first-place duck stamps. Megan's duck stamp prevailed from among the five best of show.

The age groups are: Group I, kindergarten through third grade; Group II, fourth through sixth grades; Group III, grades seven through nine and Group IV, grades 10 through 12.

All of the entries statewide are sent to 'Ding' Darling Supervisory Ranger Toni Westland. She and her staff at the refuge catalog the entries prior to the judging. The refuge has the privilege of hosting the winners of both the Federal Duck Stamp contests during 'Ding' Darling Days at the refuge in October. All 100 Florida winners are also invited to 'Ding' Darling Days.

That the famous refuge on Sanibel would host the Duck Stamp winner is a natural. It is well-known that J.N. 'Ding' Darling, the cartoonist-conservationist who wintered on nearby Captiva Island, stepped forward along with others to save what is now the refuge from development, and that he was the artist of the first Duck Stamp in 1934.

What is not as well known is that the Junior Duck Stamp Program also started at 'Ding' Darling, or at least next door. The idea for combining education about wildlife and conservation with an art contest belongs to Jaye Boswell at the Sanibel School, which borders the refuge. Now retired, she started with third-grade students and expanded it to other grades and several art mediums. Boswell was one of the judges of this year's Florida contest.

It was from that humble beginning that the national program was born. It was sanctioned by the federal government in 1994. California was the first to officially have a Junior Duck Stamp Contest, but Florida was close behind. All 50 states now have contests with a Best of Show advancing to the national judging. Florida, with its 2,882 entries, is among the state leaders in overall entries.

The Junior Duck Stamp Contest is patterned after its father program, the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. The winning art is the next year's stamp in both. What's really important about both programs is that money generated from sales goes to conservation: For the Duck Stamp Contest that means buying and leasing wetlands and for the Junior Duck Stamp Program it means funding conservation education in schools.