My early years of hunting I had little understanding of what “hunting is conservation” meant. I knew that the stamps and licenses I had to buy went to state and federal support for conservation efforts but that is pretty much the extent of my understanding of how hunting contributes to conservation.
To be honest it wasn’t until very recently as I became a podcast addict that I learned to what extent hunting supports conservation. What I have learned has given me a tremendous amount of pride in being a hunter. In order to have an understanding as to where we are now, we have to first understand where we came from.
Abiding by the economic laws of supply and demand, market hunters gunned America’s woods, fields and marshes looking to supply the wild game market. They gunned with impunity, looking to make money at the expense of wild animals, driving America’s game animals near to extinction. When people unfamiliar with hunting think of hunting, this is the image many conjure up.
Unregulated hunting combined with market demand for wild game in the 19th and early 20th centuries led to such a decline in animal life in America that we were in real danger of losing a vast amount of our wildlife. Iconic species like the bison had been hunted to the precipice of extinction, waterfowl populations had been severely reduced due to the pressures of the market hunting days.
Something had to be done or we were going to lose it all. So during the height of the Great Depression, when Americans were feeling the pain of economic hardship, American outdoorsmen supported an 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition in the form of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, more commonly known as the Pittman Robertson Act. It was so named because of the two individuals that sponsored the bill, Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson of Virginia.
Upon it’s signing by president Roosevelt on September 2nd 1937 and implementation on July 1st 1938, the act placed an 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition. This money was then rerouted from the Treasury Department and given to the Secretary of the Interior and distributed to the States. The amount of money given to the States is determined by a formula taking into account the area of the state and the amount of licensed hunters in that state. What is in my opinion a great thing about the money generated by the Pittman Robertson Act, is that the states cannot use the money for anything other than wildlife management. The use of the money has to be approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and upon approval the state has to pay money up front and then is reimbursed by the Federal money. Any money that isn’t used by the state two years after issuance is then rerouted again to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. This ensures that no matter what, the money allotted is used solely for the benefit of wildlife.
In the 1970’s, during the height of the environmental movement, the act was revised and expanded, placing a 10% tax on handguns and handgun ammunition and an 11% tax on archery equipment. Additionally it was added that half of the new money generated by the tax would go to hunter safety education and other safety training. As of 2016 according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service the Pittman Robertson Act has raised $11 billion (yes billion with a B) for conservation since it’s inception.
In 2016 money raised from Pittman Robertson and it’s companion bill Dingell Johnson (a similar fishing bill) distributed $1.1 billion to the states for conservation efforts. That amount of money is strictly money from the excise tax, as the states also raise money from licenses, stamps and permits as well.
Another success story of hunting raising money for conservation is the Federal Duck Stamp. Due to severe habitat loss during the Dust bowl days of the 1930’s, America’s already fragile waterfowl populations were further threatened due to the destructive farming practices. Something had to be done to protect the critical wetlands, and so President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, commonly referred to as the Duck Stamp. 98 cents of every dollar from every stamp purchased (and they are required to hunt migratory birds) goes to restoration and protection of critical wetlands, and also helped create the National Refuge System. Since 1934, $800 million has gone to protect and preserve some 5.7 million acres of habitat. The great thing about the stamp is anyone can (and should) buy them.
There is an annual art competition for the artwork to be featured on the year’s duck stamp. This is the 2018-2019 winner.
Just these two examples show how much hunters contribute to conservation through excise tax and stamp purchases. However, there are a plethora of organizations in the hunting community that go beyond this. Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wild Sheep Foundation, the list goes on and on. These organizations are made up of members from across the nation, all with the common goal of preserving and protecting our wild animals and wild places. Hunters give more to conservation, because hunters understand how vital protecting not only the animals but their habitat is. If you are a hunter, join one of these organizations. They have fundraisers in the form of mail campaigns and also dinners, in addition to their regional projects. Hunters should take pride in the fact that no one else comes close to doing more for conservation than the hunting community.