Depression-era movement by hunters to tax themselves led the way
PRATT — To the modern outdoorsman or woman, the absence of abundant game and fish species such as white-tailed deer, wild turkey, Canada geese, largemouth bass, walleye, and others is incomprehensible. There was a time, however, when these species were hard, if not impossible, to find in Kansas and throughout the nation. Hunters and anglers are primarily responsible for the comeback.

"To those who may have never looked down the barrel of a sporting firearm or cast a lure to a waiting fish, the conservation impacts of such activities may be a mystery," says Brent Konen, Council Grove Wildlife Area manager for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). "It's even a mystery to many of those within the hunting and angling ranks. People say, 'How can those who take wildlife be giving back?' I get that question all the time; we haven't done a very good job of teaching the conservation movement's history."

By the 1930s, habitat loss was widespread in the U.S. In addition, natural resource management and law enforcement was in its infancy, and market hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had taken its toll. To address the situation, Congress passed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) in 1937. The Pittman-Robertson Act became the most successful wildlife conservation program in the world and has been used as a model for additional efforts to expand funding for fish and wildlife enhancement programs and projects throughout the country, including Kansas.

"What's this got to do with hunters?" one might ask. P-R was implemented at the urging of far-sighted hunting conservationists and the firearms and ammunition industry. The P-R Act assessed a federal tax on sporting firearms and ammunition and archery equipment. That tax is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to all state fish and wildlife management agencies based upon the number of hunting license buyers and land area of each state. In effect, hunters demanded a tax on themselves to save the wildlife they loved. Since 1937, P-R has provided more than $2 billion to states for wildlife management.

State agencies such as the KDWP are reimbursed through P-R as much as 75 percent for costs associated with eligible wildlife management activities, including habitat improvement, land acquisition and management, population surveys, wildlife research, and hunter education. State agencies typically fund wildlife management activities up-front by assessing license fees to constituents to meet the necessary 25 percent federal aid cost requirement.

The Pittman-Robertson Act has evolved throughout its long history. Originally, it only included taxes on long guns and ammunition but now includes taxes on archery equipment and handguns. And it has fostered a companion program for angling, termed the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program, popularly known as the Dingell-Johnson Act (D-J), which took effect in 1950. Like its P-R cousin, D-J places a tax on the sale of fishing related merchandise and fishing boats, motors, and trailers. These taxes are again distributed to state agencies responsible for fisheries management and assist with aquatic habitat acquisition and management, surveys, and fisheries research.

"Hunters and anglers are key to what has been termed 'the cycle of success' as they pay taxes to equip themselves for their favorite pursuits," Konen explains. "By enhancing fish and wildlife resources, each state agency encourages hunting and angling participation, and the cycle is renewed. But hunters and anglers aren't the only ones who benefit. Nongame wildlife use the same habitat that has been protected or enhanced using sportsman dollars. People who may never hunt or fish use these lands and waters for favorite pastimes such as hiking, birdwatching, or canoeing."

The economic impact of hunting and fishing should not be ignored, either. A national 5-year survey designed to monitor hunting and angling participation and associated expenditures was last completed in 2006. For that year, the survey indicates that nationally there were an estimated 12.5 million hunters and 30 million anglers in the U.S. 16 years of age or older. In Kansas, the same survey estimates there were 271,000 resident and nonresident hunters and 404,000 resident and nonresident anglers. Nationally, anglers are estimated to have spent approximately $42.2 billion in pursuit of their pastime, while hunters spent an estimated $22.9 billion. In Kansas an estimated $242 million was spent by anglers, and hunters spent an estimated $249 million. The majority of this money was spent in communities for food, lodging, fuel, and gear.

Approximately $740 million was apportioned to state fish and wildlife agencies from P-R and D-J funds in 2009. Kansas received approximately $11.7 million of these funds. Coupled with state hunting and fishing license sales of approximately $20 million annually, it’s easy to see the positive impact of hunters and anglers have on the quarry they pursue.

"The term conservation implies wise use," says Konen, "and although hunters and anglers harvest game and fish from the fields, forests, and waters of Kansas, they ensure sustainability and a lasting legacy by providing dedicated financial support. Everyone who enjoys time spent afield on public lands and waters, or enjoys the sights and sounds of wild creatures in outdoor Kansas, should thank hunters and anglers because they give back much more than they take."