Oct 24, 2012 • By

A duck hunting hero

James Ford Bell, considered the founder of General Mills, Inc., is widely known for being a successful business leader and philanthropist.

Did you know he was quite the conservationist, too?

(Photo courtesy of DeltaWaterfowl.org)

JFB, as he was referred to, loved this time of year. On Friday nights during duck hunting season, he was known to board a train in Minneapolis and head to hunting hotspots across Minnesota. He’d spend weekends hunting canvasbacks.

By the early 1920s, duck habitat degradation at his favorite lakes was taking its toll. Fall flights were waning. JFB began traveling to Canada to hunt.

An area called Delta Marsh, located at the lower end of Lake Manitoba, was the continent’s main destination for canvasback production and hunting at the time. In 1923, JFB purchased property there.

According to an article in Decoy Magazine, JFB once wrote, “All forms of game shooting are privileges – the privilege to participate and take a share of our greatest natural resource. A privilege carries with it an obligation and responsibility … In destroying you should make provision for replenishment.”

JFB was concerned that Delta Marsh would experience the same waterfowl decline that other lakes had. In the early 1930s, as the new General Mills, Inc. was still in its infancy, JFB established a hatchery. Even though thousands of ducks were raised and released, JFB discovered that the hatchery was not the solution.

He knew scientific research was necessary, and how important it was to better understand duck behavior.

This excerpt from a special 100th anniversary issue of Delta Waterfowl Magazine applauds JFB for what he did next:

JFB donated the land, helped finance and provided the intellectual vigor, tenacity and imagination for what would become North America’s most prestigious waterfowl scientific research facility, the Delta Waterfowl Research Station at Delta Marsh. In doing so, JFB helped put meat on the bones of a field of study that heretofore was a skeleton. Perhaps more than any demographic, waterfowl hunters in particular owe JFB—waterfowl hunting’s unsung hero—a debt of gratitude.

(The Delta Marsh Waterfowl Research Station, courtesy of Decoy Magazine)

Bell died in 1961.

The Delta Waterfowl Research Station still exists today. Over the decades, hundreds of graduate students have used the station to advance the knowledge of waterfowl.

Perhaps this quote from Delta Waterfowl Magazine best sums up James Ford Bell’s legacy not only as a business leader and philanthropist, but also a conservationist:

The story of James Ford Bell story should never be forgotten, because it illustrates how one man with insatiable curiosity and big ideas and a penchant for “following the science” can change the course of history.

You can read more about JFB’s legacy in conservation in the Star Tribune and Delta Waterfowl Magazine.