History of Waterfowl Harvest Management

This 16-part DU Podcast series offers a comprehensive breakdown of how waterfowl harvest management has changed over the course of history

© Michael Furtman

Dr. Mike Brasher, Ducks Unlimited waterfowl scientist and co-host of the DU Podcast, brings in fantastic, knowledgeable guests to break down the history and evolution of waterfowl harvest management in North America. From the Migratory Bird Treaty and the end of market hunting, through the point system, and into the data-driven formats of today, this 16-part series highlights the important interplay between policy, data, collaborative decision making, and technological advances in producing our modern system of waterfowl harvest management. 

These guests provide a comprehensive explanation of Waterfowl Harvest Management evolution based on decades of working as biologists and waterfowl managers.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 1: The Early Days

At the turn of the 19th Century, market hunting and unregulated harvest was taking a toll on waterfowl and other migratory birds. Growing concern produced the first attempts at federal regulation of migratory birds. In part 1 of the DU Podcast’s series on the history of waterfowl harvest management, Dale Humburg, former DU chief scientist, and Ken Babcock, former DU senior director of regional operations, discuss these early days and the resistance to federal intervention.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 2: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Following legal challenges to early attempts at Federal protection of migratory birds, policy makers and conservation leaders sought alternative avenues for establishing Federal jurisdiction. Dale Humburg and Ken Babcock rejoin Dr. Mike Brasher to discuss the Migratory Bird Treaty Act becoming law in 1918, its role in a landmark Supreme Court case, and its emergence as the foundation for regulated waterfowl harvest and migratory bird management.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 3: Growing Pains and Progress 

Throughout the 1920s, the Federal government experienced growing pains in its new-found regulatory responsibilities for waterfowl harvest. Then, the 1930s brought about a Dust Bowl, Great Depression, and catalysts for conservation, eventually producing the Duck Stamp Act, National Wildlife Refuge expansions, the Pittman-Robertson Act, and Ducks Unlimited. Dr. Mike Brasher continues his discussion with Ken Babcock and Dale Humburg about the evolution of waterfowl harvest management.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 4: Post-War Pioneers and Flyway Formation 

World War II brought global upheaval in the 1940s and caused a redirection of national priorities and placed a temporary pause on regulatory and conservation momentum of the 1930s. After the war, returning veterans became the pioneers in waterfowl management and led to a new era of scientific discovery, regulatory creativity, and a growing need for state and federal coordination via Flyways. The DU Podcast continues its discussion with Ken Babcock and Dale Humburg.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 5: Conventional Wisdom Gives Way to Data

With growing band recoveries and a newly implemented Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, waterfowl managers in the 1950s sought a more science-based understanding of population dynamics and harvest regulations. The 1960s brought plummeting waterfowl populations, reductions in harvest limits, declining hunter numbers, and shifts in waterfowl distribution. On this episode, Dr. Mike Brasher discusses these important changes and concerning times with Dale Humburg and Ken Babcock.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 6: Biology, People, and Debates Produce Solid Foundations 

Threats of a closed season in the Mississippi Flyway in 1968 led to intense disagreement, restrictive regulations, and amplified the challenges of managing the resource while considering the interests of people. Collectively, these times generated solid foundations for future progress. Dr. Mike Brasher is rejoined by Ken Babcock and Dale Humburg to discuss these topics, while also introducing an elegant alternative regulation system that began in the 1960s– the Point System. 

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 7: Stabilized Regulations, Harvest Analyses, and the NAWMP

The 1970s and 80s brought a flurry of activity, including early teal seasons, stabilized regulations, foundational analyses of compensatory vs. additive mortality, new views on harvest management, and the most important development for waterfowl management in at least 50 years – the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Repeat guests Ken Babcock and Dale Humburg rejoin the DU Podcast to continue a discussion about the history of waterfowl harvest management.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 8: Adapting to Change, 1970s to the 1990s

The ideas of “fair” and “equitable” in harvest distribution have been a challenging undercurrent for regulatory decisions over the years. Dale Humburg and Ken Babcock join the DU Podcast one last time to discuss zones and splits, “shortstopping” in geese, the frustration it caused, and how managers tried to adapt. Also discussed are lead poisoning, non-toxic shot regulations, and the birth of Adaptive Harvest Management, each of which brought their own need for adaptation.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 9: An Intro to Adaptive Harvest Management 

Concern for waterfowl populations and frustration with the status quo of duck harvest management in the late 80s stimulated new ideas for setting annual regulations and learning about their effects. Dr. Jim Nichols, retired senior scientist from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and one of the godfathers of Adaptive Harvest Management, joins the DU Podcast to introduce waterfowl harvest dynamics, adaptive management, and the regulatory atmosphere that ultimately produced AHM.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 10: AHM – Champions, Objectives, and Regulations 

Dr. Jim Nichols rejoins the DU Podcast to share stories about early champions of Adaptive Harvest Management and how they promoted it as a better way of setting harvest regulations, with unexpected support resulting from unusual political maneuverings in the mid-90s. Dr. Nicholas and Dr. Mike Brasher also begin discussing key components of AHM, including harvest management objectives and regulatory packages, with a goal of demystifying some of the “black box” of AHM.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 11:  AHM – Alternative Hypotheses and Optimal Decisions 

Is duck harvest mortality additive or compensatory? Is duck production strongly or weakly density dependent? Which habitat features most influence duck production? And how are optimal duck harvest regulations selected in the face of this imperfect knowledge? The DU Podcast is again thankful to be joined by Dr. Jim Nichols, retired senior scientist and Adaptive Harvest Management expert, to dig deeper into the workings of AHM and how annual duck regulations are selected.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 12:  AHM – Learning, Legacy, and Influence 

In this concluding episode about the implementation of Adaptive Harvest Management, Dr. Jim Nichols and Dr. Mike Brasher discuss the importance of population data, band returns, and harvest estimates in AHM mechanics. This episode wraps up with a reflection on 25 years of liberal regulations, the legacy and influence of AHM beyond waterfowl management, where it ranks in the history of waterfowl management, and thoughts on why it has withstood the test of time.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 13: Remembering the Point System 

Mathematics was once a required practice in the duck blind, courtesy of the point system of the 70s and 80s. Dr. Jim Dubovsky, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service central flyway representative, joins Dr. Mike Brasher for a trip down memory lane to discuss the origination, objectives, implementation, and critiques of the old point system, a once common regulatory alternative for duck harvest. Although liked and enjoyed by managers and hunters alike, it wasn’t without its challenges. 

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 14: Sex-specific Regs and Farewell to the Point System 

Dr. Jim Dubovsky, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service central flyway representative, rejoins the DU Podcast to provide nostalgic reflection as he share insights on the role of sex-specific duck regulations, how they were formulated under the point system, and what determined if a bird was worth 10, 15, or 35 points. Despite being conceptually sound, the point system was withdrawn in 1994, largely due to challenges with the practicality of its implementation and enforcement.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 15: Beyond Mallards in Modern AHM 

First developed for midcontinent mallards, Adaptive Harvest Management has since been expanded to eastern and western mallards, black ducks, pintails, and scaup. Dr. Scott Boomer, wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, joins the DU Podcast to discuss modern changes to AHM and provides insights on what all has to be considered when expanding AHM to new species or entertaining alternative ideas for harvest regulations.

Waterfowl Harvest Management Series, Part 16: Pintail AHM & the Role of Harvest in Duck Management 

Dr. Scott Boomer, USFWS wildlife biologist, rejoins the show to offer his thoughts on sex-specific regulations and provide a brief update on the ongoing revision to the Pintail harvest strategy. Scott also shares his thoughts on the relative importance of harvest management vs. habitat conservation in achieving duck population goals.