For more than a century following settlement of North America, lack of concern for the future of wildlife and their habitats prevailed. Waterfowl and other wildlife supplied markets and other industries both at home and abroad. By the late 1800s, however, North Americans became increasingly concerned about dwindling wildlife populations and rallied around efforts to conserve them. In 1886, the Audubon Society was formed with the sole purpose of advocating for the protection of wild birds. A year later, the Boone and Crockett Club was organized by hunters concerned about declining wildlife populations. The first game laws were established to curb excessive harvests. But these regulations applied locally or on a state-by-state basis, and were poorly enforced.
Clearly federal authority was needed to regulate the harvest of waterfowl and other migratory birds. This was partially accomplished with the passage of the Lacey Act in 1900, the first federal legislation protecting game. Signed into law by President William McKinley, the act made transporting illegally taken game across state lines a federal offense.
In 1902, the National Association of Game and Fish Wardens and Commissioners (now the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) was formed to provide a forum for cooperation among state and provincial wildlife agencies. The association promoted enactment of a ban on spring harvest of migratory waterfowl and a prohibition on market hunting. It also led the first organized effort to establish state hunting permit requirements with revenues initially earmarked for wildlife law enforcement.