Legal removal of migratory birds from the wild occurs for several reasons, including subsistence, sport harvest, damage control, and the pet trade. We argue that harvest theory provides the basis for assessing the impact of authorized take, advance a simplified rendering of harvest theory known as potential biological removal as a useful starting point for assessing take, and demonstrate this approach with a case study of depredation control of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) in Virginia, USA. Based on data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey and other sources, we estimated that the black vulture population in Virginia was 91,190 (95% credible interval = 44,520–212,100) in 2006. Using a simple population model and available estimates of life-history parameters, we estimated the intrinsic rate of growth (rmax) to be in the range 7–14%, with 10.6% a plausible point estimate. For a take program to seek an equilibrium population size on the conservative side of the yield curve, the rate of take needs to be less than that which achieves a maximum sustained yield (0.5 × rmax). Based on the point estimate for rmax and using the lower 60% credible interval for population size to account for uncertainty, these conditions would be met if the take of black vultures in Virginia in 2006 was <3,533 birds. Based on regular monitoring data, allowable harvest should be adjusted annually to reflect changes in population size. To initiate discussion about how this assessment framework could be related to the laws and regulations that govern authorization of such take, we suggest that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act requires only that take of native migratory birds be sustainable in the long-term, that is, sustained harvest rate should be <rmax. Further, the ratio of desired harvest rate to 0.5 × rmax may be a useful metric for ascertaining the applicability of specific requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act.
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Vol. 73 • No. 4