By Gary W. Engler
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
You say you enjoy photographing wildlife? Thank a hunter. Watching birds is about the best thing you can imagine? Pay homage to the millions of Americans who have paid billions in excise taxes…willingly…to practice the art and craft of hunting. What? How dare this guy make such statements? He must be as crazy as the Loon I saw winging across Lake Weyauwega last Fall. Listen up, dear friend…prepare to be educated.
Once upon a time America’s wildlife was in serious trouble. Treated as an inexhaustible resource, by the latter part of the 19th century many species of North American wildlife were ready to bid their final farewell, since the market for fur and feathers was booming and no one really thought about the results of over-procurement of such resources. All that began to change in the early 20th century.
The Lacey Act (1900) made it unlawful to transport game animals across state lines, ending “market hunting”, and Teddy Roosevelt (avid outdoorsman and hunter, and 26th President) was a prime voice for conservation. By the end of WWI, the idea of “user pay, user benefit” had become ingrained, and laid the foundation for the next big push.
The next big push came via Carl Shoemaker, author of the bill that would become the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937. As founder of the National Wildlife Federation, and at the urging of sportsmen groups and other conservationists, including ammunition companies, Shoemaker drafted a bill to aid in the conservation of wildlife resources. Sen. Key Pittman of Nevada and Rep. A. Willis Robertson of Virginia agreed to sponsor it, and President Roosevelt signed the bill into law on September 2, 1937.
What does Pittman-Robertson do? Initially, it co-opted an existing 10% federal tax on firearms and ammunition, dedicating it to the states for wildlife restoration. With amendments, today Pittman-Robertson authorizes an 11% federal excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and a 10% tax on handguns.
Every time a hunter buys one of these items, the retail price includes the tax…there’s no avoiding it. The taxes are paid by manufacturers and earmarked exclusively to the states’ fish and wildlife agencies for use in wildlife conservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the funds, and no money collected may be dispersed to any state unless the state has passed laws for the conservation of wildlife. In addition, the law prohibits the states using hunter license fees for any purpose other than the administration of their fish and game departments.
How well has P-R worked? Splendidly! More than 62% of the money is used to buy, develop, and maintain wildlife management areas. Approximately 4 million acres have been purchased, and nearly 40 million acres are managed for wildlife under agreements with private landowners. Another 26% of funding is used for survey and research. Scientific game management was born under Pittman-Robertson. Millions of dollars a year are dedicated to hunter-safety courses.
In all, Pittman-Robertson money pays up to 75% of all such programs, with states providing the rest. Wild turkey, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, wood duck, beaver, black bear, Canada Geese, American elk, desert bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion, and several species of predatory birds have all rebuilt their populations and expanded their ranges far beyond what they were before 1937. Non-game animals have also benefited since wildlife management areas set aside for conservation by P-R funding have provided them lands and waters in which to flourish.
Hikers, photographers, campers, and nature-lovers of all varieties have gained enormous benefit because hunters dare to care, and have carried the banner for conservation since 1937. Some estimate that 75-95% of people who enjoy the benefits of P-R funding do not hunt. In FY 2012 alone, Pittman-Robertson taxes provided $555 million to conservation funding. Can I hear a “Thank you” for that?
Ashamed to be a hunter? Not I!