Happy 75th to the Wildlife Restoration Program

Happy 75th to the Wildlife Restoration Program

On September 2, one of the most important programs for wildlife conservation in America will celebrate its 75th anniversary, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program, long known just by the names of its congressional authors as the Pittman-Robertson Act, has dedicated more than $6 billion from excise taxes collected on sporting arms and ammunition to state fish and wildlife agencies for the management of wildlife species. Followed just thirteen years later by the Sport Fish Restoration program (or Dingell-Johnson Act) the two programs are widely regarded as fundamental to the success of the American system of conservation.

The turn of the last century marked a time when the United States was rapidly growing and tapping into the vast mineral and natural resources of the country. One of the perceived "vast, inexhaustible" resources was wildlife, and the economic prosperity of the nation resulted in the wholesale slaughter of wildlife for commercial use. Wildlife populations across the country plummeted to the point where simply seeing a whitetail was notable since there was less than a half million of them nationwide. Wild turkeys were on the brink of extinction and only 100,000 elk remained.

As President Theodore Roosevelt called attention to the waste of our nation's resources, a growing movement led largely by sportsmen-conservationists began to develop a core ethic and with it the beginning of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. In 1930, the American Game Institute, now WMI, brought together a distinguished group of wildlife conservationists led by Aldo Leopold to draft a policy to guide wildlife conservation. The American Game Policy that resulted cited the inadequacy of existing conservation programs and called for a new model of wildlife management to "be recognized as a distinct profession and developed accordingly" that would require a stable funding source.

In September 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, the program that laid the foundation for the American system of conservation funding. In the depths of the Great Depression, sportsmen and the sporting arms industry agreed to dedicate an 11 percent excise tax on guns and ammunition for state-based wildlife conservation efforts. Later, the program added archery equipment to the revenue source. Due to the success of the wildlife restoration program, a similar law was passed in 1950 to dedicate an excise tax on sport fishing equipment towards fisheries management. Motorboat fuel tax receipts were added to the revenue source through the Wallop-Breaux Boating Trust Fund amendment in 1984.

Combined, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs have invested more than $12 billion dollars in state agency efforts for fish and wildlife. Wildlife Restoration funds can be used for reintroduction of declining species, wildlife population surveys, species research, hunter education, acquisition of wildlife habitat and the development of shooting ranges. Sport Fish Restoration funds can be used for fish research, reintroducing declining sport fish species, restoring aquatic habitat such as coastal wetlands, aquatic education, constructing boat ramps and fishing piers and boating access.

To celebrate this unique "user pay, public benefit" conservation funding program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a number of other partner organizations have joined together during this 75th Anniversary year. Their plan is to raise broad awareness of just how important these programs have been to ensure that this country has stable fish and wildlife populations and sustainable wildlife recreation opportunities. (jas)

August 20, 2012