Nothing in life is free, but many enjoy wildlife at the expense of others. It’s something all those responsible for “Game” animals and “Sport” fish are facing.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for managing wildlife in the Keystone State, and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is in charge of reptiles and amphibians, as well as sport fish. Neither the PGC or PFBC receive state funding.
Anglers and hunters are required to purchase a license in order to pursue game species. However, for the non-consumptive users of our natural resources, there are no fees involved.
At the urging of organized sportsmen, state wildlife agencies and the firearms and ammunition industries, congress extended the life of an existing 10 percent tax on ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting, and earmarked the proceeds to be distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. The result was called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, after its principal sponsors, Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, and Representative A. Willis Robertson of Virginia. The measure was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sep. 2, 1937.
Since then, numerous species have rebuilt their populations and extended their ranges far beyond what they were in the 1930s. Among them are the wild turkey, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, wood duck, beaver, black bear, giant Canada goose, American elk, desert bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion and several species of predatory birds.
Federal Funding from P-R pays for up to 75 percent of project costs, with the states putting up at least 25 percent. The assurance of a steady source of earmarked funds has enabled the program’s administrators, both state and federal, to plan projects that take years to complete, as short-term strategies seldom come up with lasting solutions where living creatures are involved.
In the more than 50 years since P-R began, more than $2 billion in federal excise taxes have been matched by more than $500 million in state funds (chiefly from hunting license fees) for wildlife restoration. Benefits to the economy have been equally impressive. National surveys show that hunters now spend over $10 billion every year on equipment and trips.
Anglers and boaters decided to tax themselves as well. The Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, commonly referred to as the Dingle-Johnson Act, adopted by congress on Aug. 9, 1950, is modeled after the Pittman-Robertson Act and aimed at creating a similar program for the management, conservation and restoration of fishery resources.
Funds to support the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration programs are received from excise taxes on fishing equipment, fish finders, motorboat fuels, small engine fuels and import duties. State agencies that sell fishing licenses are the only entities eligible to receive grant funds. Each state’s share is based 60 percent on the number of its licensed anglers, and 40 percent on the size of its land and water areas.
Program funds are used by state fish and wildlife agencies for sport fish management, boating access and aquatic education projects.
But what about those non-game species? Non-game wildlife, which comprise close to 90-percent of all wildlife in the Commonwealth, could have had a real helping hand. A non-game Pittman Robertson dedicated funding act was proposed in the 1990s; it would have gained capital by expanding the excise tax on backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, canoes, bird seed, binoculars, and other camping, recreational and birding gear.
The additional monies would have allowed “non-consumptive” users to benefit from the conservation and management of our water, open spaces and non-game wildlife.
The idea had the support of many organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and many members of congress, as well as countless manufacturers and retailers.
It was unfortunate that a trade group, representing several large outdoor recreation companies, opposed the idea. Not too surprisingly, so did some members of congress who had pledged not to add new federal taxes.
From that point forward, we have continued to tread water. The Game Commission did try, by introducing a regulation that would have called for all users of game lands to purchase a hunting license, but non-consumptive users nixed the idea.
There still may be light at the end of the tunnel, because a current proposal on sustaining America’s diverse fish and wildlife, has reportedly found bipartisan support in both houses. It may just be the greatest hope for providing a permanent funding resource for non-game species that has ever been considered.
The “Blue Ribbon Panel” will reimagine a 21st century model for funding conservation that bridges the gap between game and non-game species.
Under the leadership of the co-chairs — Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris and former Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal — the Blue Ribbon Panelists represent the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy industry, conservation organizations and sportsmen’s groups.
The Panelists will work together over the course of a year to produce recommendations, and Congressional policy options on the most sustainable, and equitable model to fund conservation of the full array of fish and wildlife species.
Although many thumb their noses at hunters and sport fisherman, at this point in time they are the ones paying the bills, paving the way for non-consumptive users. But as their numbers dwindle, and prices rise, it’s time everyone chips in.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is in charge of state parks, forests and other lands related to outdoor activities, including snowmobile and ATV trails. DCNR is a state agency and is funded by the Commonwealth.
But, what about the 90 percent of the state’s wildlife that is considered a non-game species? Who will step forward to make sure they are protected?
The future is in our hands! Therefore, in order to pass the legacy of our remarkable natural environment on to our children and grandchildren, we must take that step forward, and join the front lines. The “free ride” needs to be over for those that wish to enjoy our natural heritage without contributing to its preservation.
Dave Wolf may be reached by email at email@example.com