Bernie Kuntz: Funding conversation


It is no big secret that hunter numbers are declining. In fact, hunter participation in the U.S. dropped 16 percent between 2011 and 2016. That's according to the latest survey taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The decline translates into less license money taken in by state wildlife agencies, and higher hunting and fishing license costs for those of us who still hunt and fish.

It may surprise non-hunters, but state wildlife agency budgets are funded almost entirely by hunting and fishing license revenues and by excise taxes on fishing equipment, firearms and ammunition. (The Dingell-Johnson Act of 1952 enabled the taxes on fishing equipment; the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 authorized taxes on firearms and ammunition.) The lone exception that I am aware of is the state of Alaska, which is funded largely by oil revenues in addition to license monies and D-J and P-R excise taxes.

Why, one might ask, isn't there a similar tax on "wildlife watchers" equipment such as backpacks, mountain bikes, tents, sleeping bags, canoes, binoculars, bird seed, hiking boots, etc.? That would be a good question. The answer is because "non-consumptive users", as they are called, have been reluctant to tax themselves as hunters and anglers have done for decades. And the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and its many members have served to kill any attempt to tax themselves.

This is not a recent phenomenon either. When I first started working for wildlife agencies in 1975, biologists and wildlife managers were talking about tapping non-hunters into helping pay for wildlife management. They are still talking about it.

A few states like Colorado, Arizona and Minnesota have set up lotteries to help fund wildlife agencies. They have been mildly successful. Missouri holds the distinction of creating the most effective means of taxing non-hunters and non-anglers. In the 1970s that state approved a one-eighth of one percent tax on soft drinks. That tax generates about $107 million annually, which is some 60 percent of the Missouri Department of Conservation's budget! Legislators in Missouri tried to eliminate the tax a few years ago but failed. Also, Arkansas lawmakers passed similar legislation in 1996 and it has generated about $50 million a year for conservation.

Some steps in the right direction are the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has only been fully funded ($900 million) twice—in 1998 and 2001—since its creation in 1965.

Here are a few figures from P. J. Delhomme of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

• Waterfowl stamp revenue since 1934 is $900 million.

• "1% For the Planet", total revenues since 2002 is $150 million.

• The Conservation Alliance, total revenues since 1989 is $18 million.

• Pittman-Robertson Act, in 2017 alone generated $629 million.

• Dingell-Johnson Act, in 2017 alone generated $624 million.

So you can see who pays the cost of wildlife management, and it is hunters and anglers!