As many of you know, hunters’ dollars help fund conservation programs in the U.S. and in some other countries, in order to maintain and improve wildlife habitat that perpetuates healthy populations of both game and nongame species of wildlife.
These are funding models that I fully support, but also worry about, because they appear to be unsustainable in the long term (more on this later). The big issue is how will conservation be funded in the future?
America’s model for funding conservation has worked admirably for a very long time. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also called the Pittman-Robertson Act, passed in 1937, applies an 11% excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition and archery equipment. A 10% tax is also applied to hand gun sales.
These monies are allocated back out to the states and territorial areas by the Department of Interior based on the area of each state and the number of licensed hunters. The dollars are used by states and territories to fund a host of conservation related projects that include wildlife habitat projects, wildlife management research, hunter education programs, public target ranges and more. In all, since this program began, over $18.8 billion has been appropriated to states and territories for conservation projects.
Hunting and trapping license revenue also funds conservation. By and large, revenue from hunting, trapping and fishing license sales are the primary sources of funding for state fish and wildlife natural resource agencies to operate on. Hunters’ dollars spent on hunting licenses, for instance, pay for wildlife population management, public land infrastructure maintenance, and wildlife habitat management that DNR wildlife staff perform throughout Minnesota.
Lucky, too, are the few states that have taken the initiative and expense of funding conservation by additional means. A prime example here in Minnesota is the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (also called the Legacy Act) that was passed by voters in 2008. By an overwhelming majority, voters approved raising sales tax in the state by three-eighths of one percent.
This additional sales tax revenue equates to tens of millions of dollars annually dedicated towards projects designed to restore, enhance and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat, as well as for water, parks, and cultural heritage and arts projects. As of 2018 the tax has generated more than $2 billion dollars for Legacy projects.
Another conservation funding mechanism in Minnesota is the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Managed by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, proceeds from lottery ticket sales help fund conservation and wildlife research projects and more. Since 1991 the fund has provided approximately $500 million for approximately 1,000 conservation related projects.
And there’s also Minnesota’s “Chickadee Checkoff.” Since 1980 the state’s nongame wildlife “checkoff” allows people to make conservation contributions on their income tax or property tax refund return, to the state’s nongame wildlife fund.
These Minnesota funding mechanisms are just a few examples for how we will need to fund conservation globally now and in the future if wildlife and wildlife habitat is deemed important to society, because the grim reality is that hunters will not be able to shoulder the expense of funding conservation in perpetuity. Others will need to step up to the plate.
Why? Hunter numbers are shrinking every year. Indeed, the continued downward trend of the number of people participating in hunting related activities and the revenue hunters generate through license sales spells trouble for conservation if other funding mechanisms are not developed and implemented.
Governments the world over will need to depend less on hunters’ dollars to pay for conservation and more on innovative conservation programs funded by other people and other sources.
A prime model of this here in the U.S. is the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742). If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, “. . . it will provide states, territories, and tribes with $1.4 billion annually [in existing revenue from royalties collected from onshore and offshore oil, gas, and mineral leases] to catalyze proactive, on-the-ground, collaborative efforts to restore essential habitat and implement key conservation strategies . . .”
So, please thank a hunter for their conservation contributions. They need to be appreciated and supported for their positive impact on wildlife, wildlife habitat and conservation. Meanwhile, our collective citizenry, corporations here and abroad and governments everywhere must bear more responsibility and provide additional funding in the name of conservation as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at email@example.com.