Waterfowlers lose conservation ‘giant’
Spielman Associate Editor
Hugo, Minn. — Look at nearly any type of waterfowl management
activity that exists today – from annual duck surveys to the way
flyway councils function – and it’s likely to have been touched in
some way by Art Hawkins, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Hawkins, of Hugo, died last Thursday. He was 92.
From his teen years as an angler and bird-watcher, to his work
most recently with the Wood Duck Society and the Concerned Duck
Hunters Panel, Hawkins spent his entire life working on behalf of
the environment and the creatures that benefit from conservation –
most notably, waterfowl.
And he died, according to his family, with walking stick and
binoculars in hand, as he surveyed the farm and the animals he’d so
often observed in the past.
“He was a real giant in the profession,” said Harvey Nelson, who
worked with Hawkins as a USFWS biologist beginning in the 1950s.
“He was a legend among us … one of the real pioneers to come on the
scene. I always considered Art Hawkins a mentor.
“Art had a strong interest in trying to maintain proper habitat
conditions, not just for waterfowl, but for other species, as
well,” he said.
Hawkins also may have been the only remaining student with
direct ties to Aldo Leopold, considered the father of the modern
conservation movement. Hawkins studied under Leopold at the
University of Wisconsin.
But Hawkins’ interest in the outdoors began long before he and
Leopold crossed paths, according to Hawkins’ son, Arthur Jr. “Tex,”
now a biologist with the USFWS in Winona.
Young Art Hawkins
Born in Batavia, N.Y. in 1913, Hawkins’ family had little in the
way of ties to the outdoors, according to Tex Hawkins. However, Art
Hawkins had a paper route, and along the way he’d pause to admire
the many feathered critters that fluttered around the home of a
particular woman along the route. Seeing the youth man’s interest,
the woman gave Art a book, Tex said, that Art would study while
fishing the ponds of New York.
Art Hawkins also had a friend who was a hunter and taxidermist,
and studying the taxidermy work fascinated Art, Tex said.
So, in the 1930, Art Hawkins enrolled at Cornell University
where he studied forestry and fisheries.
Hawkins later received an offer to do graduate work under the
tutelage of Aldo Leopold. He worked toward his master’s degree at
the Faville Grove project where he met Betty Tillotson, whom he
married in 1941.
Hawkins later worked at Coon Valley (near Stoddard, Wis.) on
what Tex Hawkins said may be the first watershed project.
“It was a strategy for restoring land, post-Dust Bowl,” Tex
The working years
Art Hawkins’ first employment opportunity came in Illinois where
he and another wood duck afficionado, Frank Bellrose (who passed
away in February 2005) worked for the Illinois Natural History
At that time, Tex Hawkins said, there was concern about low wood
duck numbers and the loss of wood duck habitat. Bellrose and Art
Hawkins conducted waterfowl surveys and did bag checks to determine
the level of wood duck harvest in the area.
Nelson said Hawkins and Bellrose were some of the first to
create structures (wood duck nesting boxes) to replace the natural
crevices lost to development – something that has gained momentum
over the years, and has become an educational activity popular with
Hawkins’ career in wildlife was interrupted in the 1940s when he
entered the military. For 41/2 years he served in the Air Force
doing dairy inspections, Tex Hawkins said. (Incidentally, he was
stationed in Texas, where Arthur Jr. “Tex” was born.)
Into the USFWS
In 1946, Art Hawkins was recruited and joined the USFWS, and for
eight years worked in the Delta Marsh area of Manitoba, conducting
waterfowl research and management.
It was during that time the USFWS was the recipient of surplus
aircraft, and following development of a plan, aerial waterfowl
surveys were born. Hawkins also took part in waterfowl banding
projects in order to determine migration routes.
According to Delta Waterfowl, “It was Hawkins, (Delta Waterfowl
scientific director Al) Hochbaum, Delta’s Lyle Sowls, and Pete Ward
who developed the concept of transects that ultimately became the
spring breeding survey, the largest wildlife inventory on the
Hawkins served as the USFWS’s Mississippi Flyway biologist and
assistant supervisor of management and enforcement before taking a
job as Mississippi Flyway representative, a position he held for 20
years, until his retirement in the mid-1970s. (He continued to work
part-time for the service into the 1980s.)
During the 1970s, Hawkins helped organized the first “Earth
Day,” and developed “Environmental Program in Churches,” which was
designed to bring together parishioners with a common interest in
the environment, Tex Hawkins said.
Retirement did little to slow Art Hawkins.
He worked for several years with the Minnesota DNR, advising the
agency on non-game issues.
Also, “He was a strong defender of the environment at a local
level,” Tex Hawkins said.
When he was 80, Art Hawkins was sued by a development company
for speaking out against a housing development planned for Lake
Amelia, Tex Hawkins said. What followed was legislation called the
Minnesota Citizens Participation Act, which prohibits similar
lawsuits, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public
Tex Hawkins said groups such as Pheasants Forever and the
Minnesota Waterfowl Association helped his father recoup legal
Other post-retirement activities included advising the
environmental board for the city of Lino Lakes, working to remove
exotic purple loosestrife for North Oaks.
Hawkins was a member of the Concerned Duck Hunters Panel which,
in recent years, met to discuss the reasons for fewer ducks in the
state and to make suggestions for improving waterfowl numbers. He
also co-founded the state’s Wood Duck Society with Lloyd Knudson, a
former DNR employee who counts himself among the many who consider
Hawkins one of their mentors.
“From the time I started school, I knew of Art Hawkins and his
contributions to conservation,” Knudson said. Later, while working
at the DNR’s Carlos Avery office, Knudson said he got to know
Hawkins better, often attending meetings with the now-retired
“Once you got to know him, you learned quickly that in addition
to being a giant in conservation, he was really a wonderful,
wonderful person,” Knudson said.
Earlier this winter, Knudson said he visited with Hawkins at a
Wood Duck Society meeting. It was a Hawkins that Knudson said he
remembers from the early years.
“What impressed me was … he had a passion for conservation; the
enthusiasm was still there, like it was the first time we met,” he
“The opportunities I spent with Art will always be cherished. It
is a tremendous loss for the conservation community.”
Hawkins also made a mark as a collaborator on a number of books
and other literary works, including “Waterfowl Tomorrow” and
Mike Furtman, an outdoors author and photographer from Duluth,
said he, too considers Hawkins a mentor. Further, Hawkins was an
important link to Aldo Leopold, from whom Hawkins passed on
knowledge to the next generation of wildlife managers.
“You could sit and have a conversation with that guy, and it
would blow your socks off,” Furtman said of chats with Hawkins.
A family man
Art Hawkins’ professional accomplishments aside, son Tex said
his father still had time to raise a family, which included
daughters Amy and Ellen.
“He always had time for his family, and birds,” Tex Hawkins
said. “He liked to be out hiking around the farm.”
Art and Betty Hawkins have owned the 50-acre farm in the Hugo
area since 1954, and, much like Aldo Leopold, Art Hawkins liked to
keep a thorough journal of wildlife happenings on the farm.
“He was active right up till the end,” according to Tex Hawkins,
who said his father likely died of a heart attack. “He traveled a
lot, but the last few years when he was less mobile, he just wanted
to be on the farm.”
According to Nelson, Art Hawkins’ legacy likely will continue,
because of the waterfowl professionals he’s influenced.
“He became a mentor to many waterfowl managers who are on the
scene today,” Nelson said.
Tex Hawkins said in lieu of a funeral the family may have a
gathering of friends in the future to celebrate Art’s life by
participating in a conservation activity. The family asks that any
memorials be sent to the Aldo Leopold Foundation, P.O. Box 77,
Baraboo, WI 53913; the Madison Audubon Society, 222 S. Hamilton
St., Madison, WI 53703; or Delta Waterfowl Foundation, P.O. Box
3128, Bismarck, N.D. 58502.
Art Hawkins is survived by his wife of 65 years, Betty; son, Tex
(Amalfi) of Winona; daughters Ellen (Rick) Brandenburg, of Tofte,
and Amy Donlin; and four grandchildren.