A relatively unknown federal law is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
So why is this particularly noteworthy? Anyone who enjoys the outdoors for its bountiful fish and wildlife resources as either a consumptive or nonconsumptive user should be thankful some politicians way back then had the foresight to pass this legislation. But most folks don’t have a clue what this law is or how it works.
The legislation actually consists of two pieces: the original Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, enacted in 1937, and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, passed 13 years later. The 1937 legislation is commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) act, while the 1950 statute is referred to as the Dingell-Johnson (D-J) act. They are often referred to jointly as the Federal Aid in Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Acts. Since their inception, the two acts have raised more than $12 billion dedicated to wildlife and fisheries management and restoration in the United States.
Funding to operate a state’s fish and game department hasn’t always been easy to find. In order to provide a steady funding source, Congress passed the P-R Act. This codified into law that an existing 10 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition used in sport hunting would continue to be collected and used only for wildlife restoration. This was done at the urging of organized sportsmen, state wildlife agencies and the firearms and ammunition industries. Over time, the act was expanded to include a 10 percent excise tax on handguns and ammunition components, and an 11 percent excise tax on archery equipment.
The D-J act effectively mimics the functioning of the P-R act, only the excise tax involves sports fishing tackle, lures, boats and motors with a specified percentage of the federal gasoline tax also as part of the package. Since fishing often includes the use of a powerboat, part of the federal motor fuel tax is earmarked for this D-J fund to aid in managing sports fisheries.
Each time a hunter or sports angler buys a piece of covered equipment, the federal excise tax is incorporated in the price. These funds, originally paid by the manufacturer and recovered in the retail sale, are made available to state fish and wildlife agencies through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using formulas to determine each state’s percentage.
The original P-R Act required that each state receiving funds from this program must already have laws on the books for the conservation and management of wildlife. The P-R Act also contains a provision that prohibits using hunting license fees for any other purpose than the operation of the state’s fish and game department. The D-J Act for sports fishing contains similar provisions.
Since the Alaska Constitution forbids so-called “dedicated funding,” we had a problem participating initially. However, an amendment was quickly passed that created the Fish and Game Fund, where all state hunting and sports fishing license, permit and stamp revenues are held and used as the required state match to receive federal funds from the P-R/D-J programs. The mandated match ratio is 1:3 (state to federal dollars). The Legislature still maintains the authority to approve specific budget expenditures ADF&G can receive from this fund.
Approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of the budgets of both the Wildlife Division and the Sport Fish Division within ADF&G are funded through either the P-R or D-J programs. All the other divisions within Fish and Game draw funding from the state’s general fund.
This can be a bit confusing. What I want you take away is that the hunters and anglers in this country are the ones who have willingly paid for the conservation and restoration of fish and wildlife populations nationwide. The management and restoration work done and habitats protected have benefited non-game species as well. Our wildlife resources are available to all users, from folks who just like watching the animals to those who harvest them for meat and trophies, because of the dedicated efforts of Americans who hunt and fish.
Even if you are a non-hunter or don’t fish, buy a hunting or sports fishing license so you, too, can financially contribute to the greatest wildlife management program that exists in the world today.
Howard Delo is a retired fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. You can leave him a message by emailing email@example.com.