Who Pays for Fish and Wildlife Conservation?
Hint: It’s not the nature lovers blasting airhorns on a national wildlife refuge
by PJ DelHomme
In the mud flats of Puget Sound, between Tacoma and Olympia, Washington, you will find the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge sits along the Pacific flyway that attracts thousands of migrating waterfowl, hundreds of duck hunters and plenty of nature “lovers” willing to blast an air horn to scare waterfowl—presumably—away from those hunters.
USA Events Coordinator Eric Bakken is a die-hard waterfowler who hunts the refuge every year. He says a few uneducated refuge visitors use airhorns and whistles to scare the birds away. “What they don’t realize is that they’re scaring them into the hunting area,” Bakken says. “One time, they made a big racket and a nice widgeon came right into our decoys. My buddy shot it, and my dog retrieved it.”
Because the refuge attracts hunters and non-hunters alike, the sound of gunshots in the distance is unsettling for some. “What they don’t realize is that this refuge would have never been protected without hunters,” Bakken says. “Where do you think that money comes from to pay for this sort of thing?”
That money comes from hunters. In 1974, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) purchased 1,285 acres of diked grasslands, freshwater marshes, and tidelands using funds collected from the sale of federal duck stamps. For you non-waterfowl hunters–a duck stamp is much like a hunting license for duck hunters. Around since 1934, those stamps have generated $1.1 billion (with a B) dollars, which the USFWS uses to acquire vital habitat and conservation easements. Since its inception, the wildly successful program has funded the protection of six million acres of wetlands.
Waterfowlers aren’t the only ones footing the tab.
Excise Taxes on Hunting, Fishing and Shooting Gear
Every time you buy a new rifle, ammo, lures or fill up your boat for a day on the water, you pay a little extra—generally around 10 percent—to fund fish and wildlife conservation. These excise taxes make up the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program, and they have generated tens of billions of dollars for wildlife restoration projects since 1937.
Hunting and Fishing Licenses
Duck stamps are to national wildlife refuges as hunting and fishing licenses are to state fish and game budgets. Those hunting and fishing license sales make up the lion’s share of management budgets across the nation. In Idaho, $55 million of their $120 million fish and game budget comes from license revenue. In Indiana, the combination of license fees along with allocations from the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program makes up 69 percent of the state’s fish and wildlife funding. The list goes on.
In 2019, hunters, anglers, and shooters generated nearly $1 billion in excise taxes alone. Click HERE to see how much of that money was allocated to your state.
If you don’t hunt or fish but do enjoy recreational shooting, your contributions to the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program are on the rise. As hunting participation in the U.S. has been on the decline, the number of recreational shooters has increased. Interestingly, most recreational shooters (53 percent) don’t actually hunt, according to a recently published study. Those excise taxes placed on handguns and ammunition don’t just pay for conservation; millions of dollars are allocated for hunter education programs, including the construction, operation, and maintenance of public target ranges.
So…attending USA sporting clays and trap shoots isn’t just fun! It also supports the USA’s conservation efforts and helps fund the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program. Find a USA shoot in your area.
The next time you head to the field, river or shooting range, take pride in knowing that you’ve played (and paid) a part in our nation’s bounty of fish and wildlife.