Text from the Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan, 2008, Page 5
Under the United States Constitution, the states possess broad trustee and police powers over the fish and wildlife within their borders, including fish and wildlife on federal lands within a state. Generally, states have delegated this responsibility to the state fish and wildlife agencies. During the early 20th century, the states management focus was on halting the decline of fish and game and restoring depleted populations through use of harvest regulations, law enforcement, and artificial propagation and stocking. Early on, sportsmen demanded a “user pays” system where fish and wildlife conservation was funded with dedicated revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. In 1937, sportsmen’s collective actions resulted in the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act (P-R).
This historic legislation established a “user pay-user benefit” program that is driven by a “self-imposed” tax on hunting firearms and ammunition; 1970 and 1972 amendments extended this tax to pistols, revolvers, and most archery equipment. These taxes are levied on the manufacturers of the equipment and collected nationally by the Internal Revenue Service, the Tariff and Taxation Bureau, or Customs depending on the type and origin of the equipment. The collections are deposited into the Wildlife Restoration Account, and allocated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to every state fish and wildlife agency, including U.S. territories, to support the management of the state’s wildlife resources.
In 1950, sportsmen expanded this user pay-user benefit funding mechanism to fisheries with the passage of the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (commonly known as the Dingell-Johnson Fishery Restoration Act). This legislation established an excise tax on most equipment used by anglers with the collections deposited into a Sport Fish Restoration Account. The funds deposited into this account are allocated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the states and territories based on the number of fishing licenses sold and the water area within the state. This legislation also assures that all funds collected through the sale of fishing licenses are spent on fishery management activities. Later amendments captured federal fuel taxes attributable to motorboat use for the Sport Fish Restoration Account.
With this dedicated funding stream, states were able to retain adequate staffs of well-trained employees and law enforcement staff. Consequently fish stocking and state-level programs for public access and habitat management developed all across the country. Thus began America’s system of funding the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that links the hunter, angler, and the industry they support with educated and trained natural resource management professionals. This user pay-user benefit funding system has been a primary engine for implementing the North American Model of fish and wildlife conservation in the United States for the last 75 years.
Despite this success, the costs of fish and wildlife conservation are increasing with public demands for new and expanded services. Professional managers and the organizations and individuals that help support them now must address a large number of new pressures on the landscape that are rapidly changing the outlook for North America’s fish and wildlife. At the same time, hunters and anglers, the people our country has relied on to fund fish and wildlife conservation for over the last century, are declining as a percentage of the population. In short, license revenues are falling as demand for wildlife management is increasing. The descriptions below set forth a number of options for addressing these issues in the 21st Century.
SCC White Paper Goals and Recommendations