I have to put up with a lot of screaming and hollering and whining on the television from people who didn't get their way and think that it helps their cause to cry about it. I concede that not everyone agrees and that is what makes our country great. A common ground concept that I seem to see with just about everyone is regarding taxes. Some people think that the wealthy should pay more taxes but when it comes down to coffee shop talk, I have never visited with anyone who says they want to pay more taxes THEMSELVES. And I am reminded of the old saying Nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes.
Another American concept that was adopted with the birth of our nation and makes our country great, was that wildlife is the property of the state. The rest of the world considered wildlife, and particularly game animals, to be the property of royalty or the owner of the property where it was found - if it was considered at all. It's much that way yet today.
Funding for wildlife management in America wasn't a big concern since it was plentiful for the first century of our nation and beyond. Game animals had become increasingly scarce by the early 1900s, though. Funding for wildlife management remained limited, but, in spite of the times, a forward-thinking group of Americans chose the depths of the Great Depression to address that need. That is remarkable.
Hunters from all over the nation petitioned Congress to do something that was almost unheard of. They asked to be taxed so that dedicated funding could be established for management of the nation's dwindling wildlife resources. Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and Congressman A. Willis Robertson of Virginia crafted a piece of legislation called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Against all odds, the act was passed into law in 1937, and the program became more popularly known as Pittman-Robertson (PR) funds.
PR funds come from an 11% Federal Excise Tax on sporting firearms and ammunition. A 10% tax on handguns was added in 1970 and an 11% tax on bows and arrows was added in 1972. The tax is charged to manufacturers by the federal government. Manufacturers, in turn, pass the expense on to those who buy their products. The funds gathered are sent back to state and territorial wildlife management agencies through a formula based on the number of hunting licenses sold and the size of the state. Hunters were the primary backers of this new funding mechanism. They can be proud of the good work that has been done thanks to their desire to help pay for management of the wildlife resource they cared so much about.
Since the program began, states and territories decide how their portion of PR funding is to be spent, but there are some guidelines in the federal rules. Nearly half of that amount has gone into development and maintenance of wildlife management areas. Hunter education activities are funded from one-half of the tax on handguns and archery equipment.
Well over 4 million acres of habitat have been acquired and placed under management for the benefit of public recreation and wildlife habitat. Non-game species are benefited as much or more than game species. Many species are more numerous today than they were when PR funding began to turn the tide; allowing states to focus dedicated funding on wildlife needs. It is estimated that only about a third of public use of these areas is dedicated to hunting. The rest of the use is by bird watchers, hikers, photographers, and others who enjoy the great outdoors on public land.
PR funds are important pieces of the funding pie that support fish and wildlife management around the country. They are a form of user fee where at least some of those who directly benefit from the funding are paying for it. Those funds are not enough by themselves, though. Public funding for fish and wildlife resources is still woefully inadequate, especially in places like Iowa where conservation activities are funded at a lower level than almost anywhere else in the nation.
But wait, poised on the Iowa horizon is a funding source the likes of which we have been dreaming for the past 6 years. Please read next week's column!