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Years of practice have paid off for 18-year-old Michael Romney, whose painting of a pair of old-squaw ducks placed first in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contest.

Romney began raising ducks and pheasants in the back yard of his family's Bountiful home when he was 6 years old. In seventh grade, he was drawing them, and by the time he reached high school, he was painting birds and other wildlife in oils.As the Utah winner in the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest sponsored by the wildlife service, Romney now will compete in Washington, D.C., against winners from other states.

The paintings will be judged by artists and waterfowl experts, with the winning painting to be featured on duck stamps sold to hunters nationwide. A first-place win also would bring a $2,500 cash scholarship for college.

Romney, whose work is exhibited at the Springville Art Museum, was named best amateur at the 1995 Utah State Fair Art Show and is Viewmont High School's regional art finalist in the Sterling Scholar competition.

He plans to attend Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, and then Utah State University in Logan to study for a career in commercial art.

His winning painting is on exhibit at the Ogden Nature Center, which co-sponsored the competition in Utah with the state Division of Wildlife Resources.

Mary Hall, executive director of the center, said the contest drew 110 entries this year from students in grades kindergarten through 12. Last year, Alta High's Daniel Murri took second place in the national finals.