Every state has a state wildlife agency that works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage fish, wildlife and their habitats for people to enjoy. These agencies couldn’t perform their duties without help from hunters, anglers, archers and gun-owners.
Few state wildlife agencies receive funding from general taxpayers. Agencies rely primarily on two funding sources – hunting and fishing license fees; and federal excise taxes paid on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle and archery gear. Those revenues fund conservation projects like habitat restoration, wildlife research and public-access programs. This process ensures our nation’s fish and wildlife remain healthy, abundant and available to hunters and anglers.
To learn how wildlife agencies perform those duties, we spoke to J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; and Chuck Sykes, director of the wildlife and freshwater fisheries division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Major Funding Sources
Hunters, anglers and trappers buy annual licenses from state fish-and-wildlife agencies, which require them to buy specific licenses to participate. The money that buys licenses goes to the state agency selling them.
Paying federal excise taxes is more complicated. The FET is a 10- to 11-percent tax paid by manufacturers on the first sale of firearms, ammunition and some archery equipment. The tax originated in the 1937 Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly called the Pittman-Robertson Act. Congress added archery equipment to the FET in 1972. The IRS collects all revenues generated by the FET, and sends them to the USFWS, which distributes the allotments to state wildlife agencies based on their geographic size and their hunting/fishing populations. The fishing industry pays a similar FET through the Dingell-Johnson Act.
Each time you buy a hunting license and equipment, you contribute to state wildlife agencies and the USFWS. In fact, the nation’s archers and bowhunters generated over $49 million during the 2017 federal fiscal year, nearly $51 million during the 2016 fiscal year, and just over $57 million during the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Archery Trade Association.
Obtaining the Funds
For states to receive these federal allocations they must pay a 25 percent match of nonfederal funding. Most states use money generated by license sales to pay the match.
For example, if the USFWS allocates $7.5 million to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin DNR must pay $2.5 million to receive the feds’ $7.5 million. If Wisconsin contributes only $1 million, it can only receive $3 million. If a state doesn’t collect the funds after a certain period, the funding reverts to the USFWS for the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which uses it to buy land for the National Wildlife Refuge program.
In other cases, state agencies partner with colleges, conservation organizations and other groups to raise money to match the federal funding. These collaborations are mutually beneficial because once the state receives the federal funds, both parties work on the project.
Using the Money
The FET contributions must be used for habitat restoration, hunter education, wildlife research, public-access programs and other high-priority national conservation projects.
License-sale revenues, meanwhile, are state-owned and can be used the same way, but also for administrative costs such as salaries for biologists and conservation wardens. Biologists conduct research and use data to guide decisions about season dates and bag limits, and game wardens protect the state’s natural resources by enforcing laws and regulations.
Strong said many state agencies focus their efforts on managing game species or their habitats because the funding comes primarily from hunters and anglers. “We work really hard to prioritize the expenditures of those funds for the benefit of sportsmen,” Strong said. “It’s a user-pay, user-benefit model that we’re funded under, so we want to make sure our users … ultimately benefit from [our work].”
Although managing game species and their habitats is important, Sykes said nongame species’ projects are equally important. According to the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, only about 5 percent of the U.S. population 16 and older hunts, whereas 34 percent of the population participates in other types of wildlife-associated recreation like birdwatching or outdoor photography.
With hunters a shrinking minority, Sykes said we need nonhunters – who appreciate nature and nongame species such as snakes, eagles and butterflies – to support hunting and elect legislators who favor hunting. Nongame species can help bridge the gap between hunters and nonhunters because money from hunters and anglers pays for state-run management programs for all wildlife and wild places. Those programs ensure everyone – including birdwatchers and outdoor photographers – benefit from healthy wildlife populations.
4 Ways to Help
Recruit a Friend – Your license and equipment purchases help drive conservation efforts across the nation. Ask a friend to go bowhunting, buy equipment or buy a hunting license. More hunters and anglers mean more financial contributions to improve hunting, shooting and wildlife-associated recreation.
Volunteer – Help state agencies with their projects. Whether you voluntarily work at a shooting range, help a biologist at a wildlife management area, or participate in another project, your time is well spent. Donated time helps generate state-match funds.
Voice Your Opinion – Help state agencies make informed habitat- and wildlife-management decisions by voicing your opinion. Attend public meetings, submit surveys regarding your recreational experience, and comment on proposed legislation.
Donate – Strong encourages people to buy licenses even if they don’t plan to hunt or fish. State agencies benefit from all financial contributions. People who make donations might be eligible to receive benefits or tax breaks.
Consider your options and get involved. You’ll help ensure wildlife and wild places remain intact for future generations.