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Monday, November 12, 2012

Hunters Contribute to the Cause

Hunters have something to crow about this year.  Seventy-five years ago, a coalition of conservationists – almost all of them hunters – pushed Congress to divert receipts from a 10 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition into a special fund for wildlife restoration.  The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, now usually referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, was enthusiastically supported by hunters and has exceeded all expectations.  It has funneled money to the states for non-game and endangered species restoration as well as traditional habitat work for game animals.

The tax was raised to 11 percent during World War II and now provides over $160 million annually for projects.  Excise taxes on handguns (since 1970) and archery equipment (1972) added $41 million and $25 million annually, respectively.  To date, $7.2 billion in PR funds have been granted to the states.

The “strings attached” include provisions that states can’t turn over P-R revenue to other (non-conservation) state programs and that they must employ trained wildlife specialists.  Also, grants are only available on a 3:1 matching basis so the DNR must come up with one dollar match for every three it receives.  Nationwide, more than half of the funds goes for purchase, maintenance and operation of wildlife management areas, while another large chunk of the funds goes for research projects.

The results have been very impressive.  In the first 50 years, a myriad of wildlife species including wild turkeys, white-tailed and mule deer, wood ducks, black bears, prairie chickens, pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain lion (cougars), bighorn sheep, caribou, beaver, bobcat, and sea otters made incredible comebacks with help from P-R funded projects and programs.  In Michigan, the state used P-R funds for acquiring hundreds of thousands of acres for use as game areas, completed habitat improvements on these and other state lands, re-introduced wildlife species, and conducted a variety of research projects.

To date, the Michigan DNR has received $261 million, the fourth highest total among the states.  Michigan got $12.3 million in 2012.  The match is usually provided by money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, so hunters and fishermen have a hand in both the granting and matching.  

Labor Day officially marked the 75th anniversary of the Pittman-Robertson Act, but the entire year of 2012 is a landmark for wildlife conservation.  While not everyone agrees that each dollar was well spent, there is no question that without P-R funds Michigan would not be the wildlife-rich state it is.  The Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950 taxed fishing equipment to similarly fund conservation work in rivers and lakes.

The future of this funding seems fairly bright, at least in the short term.  This August, preliminary results of a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed a nationwide nine percent increase in hunters and an 11 percent increase in fishermen between 2006 and 2011.  There was a 17 percent increase in anglers fishing in the Great Lakes.

Big-game hunters increased by eight percent since 2006, and migratory bird hunters by 13 percent.  Small game hunters declined in numbers by six percent.  

Spending was also up considerably, and that’s what directly affects P-R and Dingell-Johnson funds.  Many states including Michigan have been investing time and money into youth and women-oriented programs to boost recruitment of hunters and anglers.  Whether this effort, or other factors, has led to the greater numbers of hunters and fisherman has not been determined. 

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