Money for Conservation

MONEY for CONSERVATION, as one can imagine, is a cost that is not cheap. Nationally, hundreds of millions of dollars are dedicated to the cause of habitat, research and regulations designed to assist where possible, and curtail some game populations where needed. For decades the brunt of the funds for conservation have come from fish and game hunting license sales. The 50 state fish and wildlife agencies get the bulk if not all of their wildlife funding from licenses. Those dollars spent by hunters and anglers benefit wildlife enjoyed in many fashions by all Americans.

Beginning in the 1920s, sportsmen and women bought licenses. How is the money spent? Knowing the process assists in educating the general public of the bigger conservation picture. National license sales exceed $1.1 billion per year. The purchase of licenses – by hunter or non-hunter – is one of the best contributions that can be made toward conservation.

Funds for conservation got a big boost in 1937 with the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. It also goes by the name Dingell-Johnson, or DJ. The law provided for a 10 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. Those funds collected at the federal level are redistributed to the 50 states based on a formula of land area and number of hunters and anglers. When a state allocates those dollars to projects, usually about 75 percent of the cost, additional funds are leveraged from a wide variety of sources to make a project or program viable.

Later on the excise tax was raised to 11 percent during World War II. On average it raises $163 million per year. In 1970, the Dingell-Hart Bill was enacted, making 10 percent excise taxes on handguns and that money also was dedicated to wildlife restoration programs. That adds about $41 million per year. Archery products got into the mix with strong support of the community of archers and bow hunter in 1972. A similar excise tax of 11 percent applies to archery gear to the tune of about $25 million per year. Fishing and angling supplies contributes another $100 million per year.

The combination of all these sources of funds, roughly $560 million, forms the best system ever devised for the benefit of wildlife, game and non-game species alike. It has allowed individual states to greatly enhance their conservation activities. Along with all the above federal legislation were some important requirements:

1) Proceeds from the federal wildlife restoration fund may not be turned over to other state programs. It must remain dedicated to its lawful purpose (this was done specifically due to political diversion of money, prior to 1937, that robbed one account to feed another). Those actions did not sit well at all with the public in general and hunters or anglers in particular.

2) Another important element of the Dingell-Johnson legislation of 1937 required the states to maintain eligibility for P-R fund by hiring trained wildlife and fisheries specialists. This encouraged universities to introduce courses in wildlife management and related biological studies. It added science-based knowledge to the mix, a good thing. Iowa State University is just one state to justify that. It worked well. Trained personnel who understand the biological and ecological factors for wildlife make better decisions on their behalf.

Approximately half of the funds a state receives is use to buy, develop, maintain and operate wildlife management areas. These activities include planting feed and cover, restocking where appropriate, constructing wetlands and ponds for waterfowl and providing watering places in arid areas. Research is another arm of the formula whereby states collect data on all kinds of factors affecting wildlife and the lands or waters they live on. In the long run, everyone, hunter, angler or just people that want to enjoy by observing, benefit from lands dedicated to woodlands, grasslands or wetlands. And most of lands under state agency wildlife management are the rougher, wetter, steeper, rockier, more scenic acres. And in many cases those lands are more productive for the day-to-day needs of wildlife.

Here are few wildlife number to think about. It shows how science-based wildlife management helped them. White-tailed deer in 1900 were less than 500,000 in the entire United States. Today conservation programs have returned the species to 32 million. Waterfowl in 1901 were in big trouble. Today there are more than 44 million ducks in the United States and Canada. Rocky Mountain Elk in 1907 numbered about 41,000. Today in 23 states the elk population is 1 million. Wild turkeys in the early 1900s were under 100,000. Today, conservation programs have restored them to 7 million. And in western states, the Pronghorn 50 years ago was tallied at 12,000. Today, conservation programs have helped increase the species to 1.1 million. All success stories. An added benefit of the programs and habitat initiatives for the above animals provided habitat needs for a huge number of other smaller wildlife critters.

Success based on science, hard work, money and the foresight of leaders who fashioned the legislation to make it possible. Hurray!

IOWA PHEASANT roadside counts will begin Aug. 1. Across the state, 208 routes, each 30 miles long, will be driven slowly by officers, wildlife managers and researchers to gather counts on pheasants. In addition numbers of other wildlife sightings will be tallied for cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail and Hungarian (Gray) partridge. The best route days are those with light winds, a heavy dew from the night before. The animals will seek out rural gravel roads to dry off the dew from their bodies in the new warming sunlight. Todd Bogenschutz, DNR upland wildlife biologist, coordinates the route data collection.

“When our pheasants do best, it’s after mild winters with less than 30 inches of snow, followed by warm, dry spring nesting season with less than eight inches of rain. I do not want to get hopes up too high but perhaps the weather model will be wrong this year. Roadside counts should be interesting,” he said.

This scribe will report what was found, or not found, when the statewide count summary report is issued. Stay tuned.

At DEVIL’s LAKE, N.D., game wardens got a tip call about illegal fishing June 20 of this year. Here is what the officers found:

Five Wisconsin anglers had over 100 walleye over the limit. Fines and court costs could add up to $1,725 for each person. The five guys were allowed to have 10 fish per person. Instead they had as a group exactly 100 more fish than they were supposed to posses. They will appear in court on Aug. 18 at Devil’s Lake. The group would fish for 10, take them to shore to process, and then go get 10 more. They though they would not get caught. Other anglers who know the drill and know the law alerted the game wardens. The rest is history. Hopefully it is a lesson learned, an very expensive lesson.

“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

– Mark Twain