Wildlife Conservation Retrospective

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A glimpse of the past brings appreciation of the wildlife abundance of the present day, a product of public policy unique in its model of self-supported funding.  This user-funded model, based on hunting and fishing licenses, continues to pay for wildlife conservation today.

According to Mark Duda of Virginia-based Responsive Management, “The vast fish and wildlife resources that Americans enjoy are not here by chance.  The conservation and sportsmen communities supported the imposition of an excise tax on firearms and ammunition that, along with the dedicated revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, would be used exclusively by state wildlife agencies to professionally manage wildlife populations. “

An article published in the June 1933 Alabama Game and Fish News offered a quarter-century perspective on the license-based funding model.  In the article, titled “Department Founded on Faith in Future”, Judge Charles E. McCall wrote: 

“When the Legislature of Alabama assembled in 1907, Gov. W. D. Jelks, in his message to that body, recommended the passage of a comprehensive Game and Fish law.  He stated that no real protection could be secured short of a provision arranging for game wardens and that the law should be broad enough to embrace in its protective features other birds than game birds, and to prevent the extinction of game as well as the songbirds of the State.

“Henry B. Steagall was the author of the bill installing the State Game and Fisheries Department, creating the office of the State Commissioner of Game and Fisheries, providing for employment of game wardens, and creating a fund known as the Game and Fish Protective Fund.

“The Steagall Bill became a law on its approval by the Governor on Feb. 19. 1907.  The Act provided that the salary and all expenses of the Department were to be paid from the Game and Fish Protective Fund and expenditures were limited to the receipts of that fund.  While temporary liberty was allowed under the law to use from the public printing fund an amount sufficient to pay for departmental blanks, it was stipulated in the Act that expenditures for such purposes should be refunded from the first collections of the Department.

“It began with nothing—provisions not even being made for postage.  Founded on faith and an unshaken belief in the possibilities of future accomplishments, it began its steady travel toward its present achievements.

“The receipts of the Department for the first fiscal year amounted to only $884.68 and the expenditures for the same period were $862.58.   From its beginning it has been self-supporting, being maintained by receipts from licenses paid by the sportsmen of the State and possibly the operations of no Department have met with better and more ready cooperation”.

If only Judge McCall had known the truth of his words about the possibilities of future accomplishments.  Since the early beginnings of the wildlife conservation movement, hunters have paid for work by state wildlife agencies to secure abundant and healthy wildlife populations enjoyed by all of society.

The user-funded model established by states for hunters and anglers to pay for protection of fish and wildlife resources was expanded by Congress in 1937 with the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which allocates 3-to-1 matching monies derived from federal excise taxes paid at the manufacturers’ level on hunting arms and ammunition to state wildlife agencies.  Law enforcement protection alone was less than effective, and with new funding, states were able to apply a growing body of scientific knowledge for biologically-sound management of wildlife populations and habitats.

Again in 1950, Congress further expanded the highly successful funding model with the passage of the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Act, which allocates similar matching monies collected from manufacturers of fishing tackle to the states for fisheries work.  The 1984 Wallop-Breaux Act expanded Sportfish Restoration funding to include federal motorboat fuel tax.

Every hunting license or fishing license purchased is important in helping to pay for management and protection of fish and wildlife resources.   There are no general tax dollars that pay for the work of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in Alabama.