Who Pays for Conservation?


Mainly, the general taxpayer and non-gunning related industry.

As noted under “Desired Client Access,” hunter numbers are shrinking, while federal data shows surging numbers of birdwatchers, wildlife photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts. Non-invasive recreationists increased from 62.8 million in 1996 to 71.1 million in 2006. Hikers, birdwatchers, bikers, and other wildlife watchers outnumber hunters 17 to one, and outspend gunners four to one.

Despite these margins, wildlife departments and industry partners (The Wildlife Management Institute, see below) resist reform. Rather than relinquish gun lobby control over public purse-strings and policy, trade has turned to “access and recruitment,” via increased access to public and private land, and recruitment programs aimed at children and women.

To make up the deficit, state wildlife departments have begun to have it both ways, pumping more and more tax dollars into hunting programs, while insisting that the agencies still be run by and for hunters. This leaves the departments politically vulnerable, with calls for commensurate public representation on wildlife councils and in management of public lands.

Conservation vs. Administration of Hunting Programs

Claims that hunting pays for conservation are inaccurate. Hunter fees pay for the administration of hunting programs. There is a difference. Hunter programs are narrowly aimed toward servicing a specific clientele: pen-raising pheasants, re-stocking hunted species, securing increased client access to public and private lands, hunter advocacy public relations, issuing licenses, and other duties.

Federal excise taxes (Pittman-Robertson) on handguns, long guns, and outdoor equipment finance propagation of hunted animals, hunter recruitment, poll tests, and public attitude initiatives. Hunter-generated funds comprise only 20 percent of excise tax revenues, yet the hunting lobby controls 100 percent of revenue dispersal.

For laypersons, the term “conservation” is positive: it means restoring and protecting wildlife and its habitat. For government practitioners and firearms partners, the overarching goal is propagation of “game” species to sustain hunter demand and, indirectly, firearms, archery and equipment sales.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that creating monocultures for deer affects “significant acreage,” with negative consequences for non-game species dependent upon destroyed ecotypes. Sandhill cranes, short-eared owls; Henslow's sparrows, marsh wrens and grasshopper mice are among the dislodged. Habitat is modified via “controlled burning, chemical usage, seeding and planting, mechanical, water development, water maintenance and timber harvest.”

Gunning is not required to preserve habitat, and in fact directs public funding away from preservation priorities. Non-hunting Americans have proved extremely generous in public support for open space and wildlife habitat and foot most of the bill. Under State Wildlife Grants and other funding mechanisms, the general public will pay even more in the years to come, yet remains effectively barred from policy.

State wildlife departments (and partners) access federal and state general treasury funds via direct appropriations, Green Acres bond issues, and State Wildlife Grants (state and federal matching grants).

Federally, duck stamp receipts (hunter fees) subsidized by U.S. Treasury loans have purchased about 3 percent of refuge lands, or about 5.2 million acres. The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses 96 million acres.

By executive order, Theodore Roosevelt established the first bird preserve, Pelican Island Migratory Bird Reservation, along the central Atlantic coast of Florida. Later, the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 and the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act empowered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire refuge lands. Congress also enacts legislation enabling specific refuge acquisitions and expansions. Moneys are appropriated from The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and The Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF).

The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 from offshore oil and gas receipts, sales of federal property, and motorboat fuel. Under LWCF, $900 million is available each year for parkland, water resources, open space, and state and local park projects. Priorities are migratory birds, fish, endangered species, interpretation and recreation (including hunting), and refuges. LWCF appropriations also fund grants-in-aid to states for acquisition and development of recreation areas. The fund supports National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service land buys. Unspent funds are carried over to the next fiscal year.

Receipts from ducks stamps, an advance loan of $197 from the U.S. Treasury, and $153 million collected from refuge entrance fees and import duties on firearms and ammunition sustain the MBCF. As noted in a USFWS refuge acquisition breakdown,
Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) have brought in about $477 million since 1934.” Ten percent of duck stamps are bought by art dealers, hobbyists and stamp collectors, and that percentage is rising. Collectively, MBCF funds have purchased about 2.7 million acres, or about 3 percent of Refuge System lands. According to the Service, An additional 1.4 million acres (about 1.5 percent of Refuge System lands) have been purchased using about $1 billion from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Most refuge lands (almost 90 percent) have been withdrawn from the public domain.”

State land acquisition is funded by the general taxpayer. In New Jersey, fully 66 percent of Wildlife Management Areas, or public shooting grounds, were purchased with Green Acres funds. Ninety-nine percent of New Jersey residents do not hunt.

General taxpayers and certain industries pay for acquisition of most public land. The gun lobby asserts de facto ownership.

NOTE: The above was excerpted from: Ammo: Who Runs U.S. Wildlife Policy?” by Susan Russell. Copyright © 2010 Sue Russell. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author. Used here with permission.