Part of North Dakota’s hunter education course is an explanation of license fees and excise taxes, and how these funding sources financially support hunting and fishing in North Dakota.
Pretty much everyone who hunts and fishes in North Dakota knows they have to buy a license first, and most of those people understand that license dollars go to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
What is less understood, despite decades of promotion by state and federal agencies across the country, is the federal excise taxes paid by hunters and anglers when they purchase hunting and fishing equipment such as firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle, and more.
These excise taxes, which roughly account for around 10 percent of retail purchase price, are collected by the federal government, and then distributed back to states. In North Dakota, this “federal aid” accounts for 40-50% of the Game and Fish Department’s annual budget.
License fees paid by hunters and anglers (and trappers and boaters as well, combined with federal excise taxes disbursed to states, account for almost all of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s budget. A small percentage of income also comes from things like rental of wildlife management areas under haying and grazing contracts, magazine subscriptions, donations and few other small sources.
What you won’t find anywhere in the Game and Fish Department’s budget is an allocation from the state of North Dakota general fund. Put another way, of all the state income taxes you and I pay every year, zero of that winds up in the Game and Fish Department budget.
That fact is probably the least understood of the Game and Fish funding scenario. So it’s a good reminder as we take a look at the role those federal excise dollars play on and annual basis.
Earlier this year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department received $12.8 million in as its share of excise taxes paid by America's recreational shooters, hunters, anglers and boaters. Altogether, 56 state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies shared more than $971 million.
The funding is used by Game and Fish to support conservation programs such as fish and wildlife monitoring, habitat improvement, research and education. The money also helps pay for hunter and aquatic education, and fish and wildlife-related recreation projects. Federal assistance funds pay for up to 75 percent of the cost of each project, while the state contributes at least 25 percent from nonfederal sources.
The federal funds are apportioned by a formula under two assistance programs – Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration. The total 2020 Wildlife Restoration apportionment for all state and territorial agencies is more than $601 million.
Sport Fish Restoration support for 2020 totals nearly $370 million.
That adds up to a lot of money that hunters, anglers and boaters contribute in addition to what we all pay for licenses.
As you spend time boating and fishing this summer, and begin planning the hunting trips for the fall, know that the hunting, fishing, habitat and conservation funding mechanism continues to work to maintain existing opportunities, while setting the stage for the future as well.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. His email is email@example.com.