In these tough economic times, state governments look closely at budget matters just like everyone else does. But in recent weeks, several states have made moves to divert funds from game and fish department budgets for purposes other than conservation.
That is unfair to hunters.
Illinois took $9.25 million from six funds that receive money from hunting and fishing license fees, to move into the 2009 Budget Relief Fund. Faced with budget shortfalls, Arizona is considering cutting $145,000 from funds used to acquire and improve habitat for game species. And there is a bill in South Dakota that would divert $1 from the sale of every hunting license in the state to a fund for road repair!
Hunters pay an endless list of fees for licenses, stamps, permits, etc., with the understanding that the money is used for conservation. Indeed, in most states, hunting and fishing license sales are the major source of revenue for the game and fish departments. But besides being unfair, this monetary shuffling puts another crucial source of conservation funding at risk—Pittman-Robertson funds.
The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, signed in 1937, earmarked an 11 % excise tax that hunters pay on guns, ammunition and some archery equipment, to be distributed to individual states for wildlife restoration, habitat acquisition and improvement, wildlife research, hunter surveys and even hunter education. Since 1937, hunters have contributed an astonishing $5.6 billion in these excise taxes.
But in order to receive Pittman-Robertson funds, states must agree not to spend license money on purposes outside wildlife conservation. If they do, they can risk losing their P-R funds.
P-R funds are distributed to the states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based on land area and the number of hunting licenses holders in the state. Over the years, the projects funded with this money have helped bring numerous game species back from levels that were alarmingly low in the 1930s—whitetail deer, elk, pronghorn, wood ducks, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, etc.
In other words, hunters have done more to restore game populations in this country than anyone else. And it’s worth noting that even though it’s hunters who are footing the bill, anyone who enjoys wildlife benefits from P-R funded conservation projects—birdwatchers, hikers, photographers, etc. They enjoy what we pay for.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already notified Illinois and South Dakota that their funding is at risk--and it’s significant—Illinois got $6.6 million in P-R funds last year and South Dakota got $5.5 million. (To their credit, Illinois intends to put the money back, although the state has asked USFWS for more time.)
And what’s truly amazing about these bureaucrats’ efforts to play fast and loose with our money is that they all seem oblivious to the economic benefits hunting brings to their states. In hunting-related retail sales alone in 2006, South Dakota totaled more than $196,000,000; Arizona almost 326,000,000; and Illinois nearly $389,000,000.* Considering how much those expenditures are helping states’ economies, efforts should be made to pump more money into creating hunting opportunities instead of shortsighted measures that will actually reduce them.
*Source: Hunting in America, An Economic Engine and Conservation Powerhouse, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies/Southwick Associates.