Posted: November 5, 2018

Conservation Laws – Saving Waterfowl for future generations


We need to thank our forefathers for their prudence in protecting the various species of waterfowl with the conservation laws they enacted; without those laws, we would not have the number of birds we have today.  The late 1890’s and early 1900’s marked the dawn of the modern conservation movement.  New game laws spelled the end of a wildfowling era when they banned the use of live decoys and baiting; a necessary end.  By the early 1900’s, waterfowl populations had been cut in half. 

The Lacy Act of 1900, was introduced into Congress by Republican Representative John Lacy of Iowa, and signed into law by President William McKinley on 25 May, 1900.  The act protects both plants and wildlife, by creating civil and criminal penalties for those who violate the rules and regulations.  The law authorized the Secretary of the Interior to aid in restoring game and birds in parts of the U.S. where they have become extinct (or rare).  In 1900, illegal commercial hunting threatened many of the game species in the United States. The Act was directed at the preservation of game and wild birds, making it a federal crime to poach game in one state with the purpose of selling the bounty in another. The law prohibited the transportation of illegally captured (or prohibited) animals across state lines, and addressed potential problems caused by the introduction of non-native species of birds and animals into native ecosystems.

The Week-McLean Act was introduced by Republican Representative John Weeks of Massachusetts and Republican Senator George McLean of Connecticut.  The Act prohibited spring hunting and marketing of migratory birds, set nationwide hunting seasons, and regulated shooting of migratory birds.  It became effective on 4 March, 1913, but because of a constitutional weakness, was later replaced by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was implemented for the protection of migratory birds between the U.S and Canada.  This was to prevent the extinction (or near-extinction) of a number of bird species, many of which were hunted either for sport, or for their feathers.  The Act made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg, or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.

The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, amended “The Duck Stamp Act” was enacted 16 March, 1934, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  This act requires each waterfowl hunter, 16 years of age or older, to possess a valid Federal hunting stamp.  Receipts from the sale of the stamp are deposited in a special Treasury account known as the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, for the acquisition of migratory bird refuges under provisions of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.  Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar, goes directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase or lease wetlands for habitat.  To date, some 800 Million dollars has gone into the fund to protect more than 5.7 Million acres of habitat.  The Federal Duck Stamp program has been called one of the most successful conservation programs ever.

A memo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, dated 9 August, 1935, references the number of birds killed and reported to the government in a single season.   Due to the number of birds killed, the Government banned the use of baiting, to include live decoys.




Office of Information

                  Press Service                           



Release - Immediate

August 9, 1935


  OF MORE THAN 660,000 DUCKS    IN ‘34


More than 660,000 wild ducks were killed in the United States last year by 44,000 hunters on areas where bait was used to attract the birds, according to reports complied recently by the U.S. Biological Survey.

 Now outlawed by the Federal Government in order to reduce the annual kill of ducks, baiting was allowed during the 1934-35 hunting season only under permits that prohibited shooting after 3 P.M. Issued without charge, the permits required that the holders keep daily records and make detailed reports at the close of the season.  Federal officials did not check up on the accuracy of these reports.

 The Biological Survey issued 3,003 permits, of which 126 were surrendered and 3 canceled, and for about 170 of which no reports were received.  Permits were issued in 36 States.  The holders, says the Bureau, reported that 44,349 gunners on the baited premises killed 661,204 ducks, 11,140 geese, and 739 brant.

 The heaviest kill of ducks on baited premises in any one State, according to the reports, was in California, where 10,467 hunters killed 209,097 ducks.  Illinois came second with a total bag of 161,935 ducks by 12,958 hunters.  Other States where permit holders reported total kills of more than 20,000 ducks were: Washington, where 2,477 hunters killed 74,52S ducks; Oregon, with 2,421 hunters and 62,183 ducks; Maryland, with 4,371 hunters and 34,146 ducks; and Missouri, 1,804 hunters and 20,538 ducks.

 The largest kills of geese with the aid of bait were reported from Illinois (4,079), Maryland (3,038), and North Carolina (1,426).

 Mallards made up the largest share of the bags from the baited areas, the total of 237,893 including 135,710 reported in Illinois.  Pintails were next with a total for the country of 187,452, which included 127,958 reported from California.

 Among the species protected by a special daily bag limit of 5 last year, those suffering the heaviest losses were bait was used were: Scaup 29,834; Shovller, 16,239; canvasback, 7, 450 and redhead, 5,539.  The largest number of Shovllers for any one state (12,151) was reported from California. For each of the others of these species the largest kill was reported from Maryland – scaup, 8,854, canvasback, 3,447; and redhead, 4,073.

 Effects of Baiting Investigated


Though practiced in only a few areas at the close of the World War, baiting, once started, soon became widespread.  Gunners who baited had a tremendous advantage over those who did not, and when one hunter started baiting others shooting in the same area felt more or less compelled to follow.

 Opposition to baiting grew until, in 1933, an investigation was requested by the board of sportsmen and conservationists then advising the Secretary of Agriculture on matters pertaining to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Conducted by 12 naturalists of the Biological Survey in all parts of the country, this investigation revealed an adequate supply of natural food for the birds and showed that baiting had many serious effects. The practice, it was found, not only affected all the common species of ducks and geese but had its most injurious effects on the canvasbacks, redheads, scaups, and other diving ducks that have decreased most alarmingly.

 Steps were taken to regulate the practice in 1934  by allowing baiting only under permit, with restrictions, and the necessity for a reduced annual kill this fall has made it advisable this  year to prohibit all hunting on baited premises.

 The investigators in 1933 reported as much natural food today per bird as there ever was, but they found that baiting on a shooting area often attracted the birds away from a good supply of natural food and held them in areas that were not naturally adapted for wintering waterfowl.  To some extent the urge to migrate was lost, and the birds, thus delayed in their flight, often suffered from cold and starvation, “Probably 95 percent of all who bait” the investigators reported, “cease their feeding within a week or ten days of the close of the gunning season.”

 Most serious of the effects of baiting was the increase of the total number of birds killed by hunters, especially when bait was used in connection with live decoys, batteries, and scull boats, bait, the investigators reported, quickly tamed the birds, and when a large number of decoys were used it was common to see the ducks alight within a few feet of the blinds.  Often the birds were tamed so completely that a flock fired on sometimes returned for a second and even a third bombardment.

 Other injurious effects included lead poisoning of diving ducks.  Year after year shot accumulated on the bottom of heavily baited areas and birds picked up shot pellets for grit or mistook shot for seed.  Baiting was also opposed by some on the grounds that it permitted an undesirable commercialization of wild fowl and that it encouraged a disregard of bag limits and other game-law regulations on areas where baiting resulted in large concentrations of the birds.  There was evidence, too, says the Biological Survey, to indicate that baiting materially aided and encouraged the game bootlegger.



Thanks to these conservation efforts, the associated laws, and their various amendments over the years, we can enjoy waterfowl hunting today and for many years in the future.