Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Programs
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Phone: 612-713-5360
Address: BHW Federal Building
One Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056

Submitted by: Dan Zekor, Federal Aid Coordinator, Missouri Department of Conservation; August 4, 2005; published in the September 2005 Conservation Federation of Missouri magazine - Missouri Wildlife

Robyn Thorson, Regional Director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3 once said, "Things move at the speed of money." When it comes to making things happen in the fish and wildlife conservation business, no truer words have ever been spoken. Managing the fish and wildlife resources of our state and nation is not cheap, and one can see everyday the struggles of fish and wildlife agencies as they are forced to make hard decisions about which projects get funded and which projects must wait another day. Fortunately, Americans believe fish and wildlife resources are important and should be guaranteed some level of regular attention, and we have backed up that believe with a variety of conservation laws and sources of federal and state money. Over the years, the challenge for each of the states has been how to combine and leverage state resources with federal sources in order to get the biggest bang for buck.

Wildlife Restoration Program

Missouri's dedicated one-eighth cent conservation sales tax for fish, forest, and wildlife management is one of the biggest conservation success stories of the past 30 years. However, an even bigger success story that also benefits Missouri is the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.

In 1937, shortly after Missourians had created the Missouri Conservation Commission, Congress was working to pass what has arguably become the most successful piece of wildlife conservation legislation on the planet - the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (aka Pittman-Robertson Act). As it stands today, the purpose of the Act is the restoration, conservation, management, and enhancement of wild birds and mammals, and the provision for public use of and benefits from these resources. The education of hunters and archers in the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to be responsible hunters or archers is also part of the Act's purpose today. Ultimately, all of this is accomplished by the states through federal money collected from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, pistols and revolvers, bows and archery equipment, and arrow components. The money is put into the federal Wildlife Restoration Account and is annually apportioned back to the states by a formula that takes into consideration the size of the state and the number of hunting license holders relative to all other states. In 2005, over $235 million was made available to the states and territories, and of this Missouri ranked 10th receiving a little more than $6.7 million, or a little less than 3 percent of the total. Texas was the big winner receiving $10.8 million.

Of course, as you might expect, the federal government doesn't just send Missouri a big bag of money and wish us well. There are rules and procedures for getting and using this money. First, the states must match the federal money at a rate of one state dollar for every three federal dollars. This required match establishes a clear partnership between the state and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Secondly, the state must prepare grant proposals describing the work and projects that will be funded with these federal dollars, consistent with purposes stated in the federal law. And thirdly, the state must assure the Fish and Wildlife Service that we will comply with a host of other federal laws including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Americans with Disabilities Act, to name a few. While the hoops that we must jump through in order to recoup this money are many and sometimes difficult, the payback to the state and citizens is tremendous.

In the early years of the program, the Missouri Department of Conservation relied on these dollars to fund most of its wildlife conservation activities, including land acquisition. The dedicated sales tax, that the Conservation Federation of Missouri worked hard to establish, did not yet exist. So it was the combination of hunting license fees and federal aid that supported nearly everything the Department could do. A point worth noting is that today, most state fish and wildlife agencies still depend on license fees and federal aid as their primary source of revenue.

Many of the oldest conservation areas around the state exist because these federal aid dollars were available, and certainly, the biggest wildlife restoration efforts in Missouri's history, like deer and turkey, were supported by this funding as well. While the conservation sales tax, established in 1976, had a huge impact on the Department by broadening programs and services beyond the so-called "hook and bullet", the longstanding Wildlife Restoration Program has been quietly contributing in a hugely significant way and is still an important force in Missouri's conservation programs.

In the 1970s, Congress made a major improvement to the program by enabling the states to use a portion of their federal aid for hunter education, and the development and maintenance of shooting ranges. In 2000, additional money was made available for hunter education and shooting range enhancements. The Missouri Department of Conservation has taken advantage of this flexibility in the program by funneling over $1 million during 2004 into hunter education and shooting range management, including archery ranges.

One of the great benefits under the program is that the money must be targeted according to the program purposes and not by relative contribution according to hunters, shooters, archers, handgun owners, etc. This latitude allows the Department to direct money and effort according to need whether it is land acquisition, as in the early years, wildlife research, hunter education, or land and habitat management, where most of those funds are now used.

Anyway you look at it, the program contains something for everyone, and is the ultimate example of "user pays - user benefits." Hunters, shooters, archers, and manufacturers of equipment all contribute via the excise tax, and all benefit, either directly or indirectly from the work this popular program supports.

Sport Fish Restoration Program

If the Wildlife Restoration Program is the one of the greatest programs to ever be created by Congress, right next to it you'll find the companion Sport Fish Restoration Program. Not quite as old as the wildlife program, the Sport Fish Restoration Program was created in 1950 for the purpose of restoration, conservation, management, and enhancement of sport fish, and the provision for public use of and benefits from these resources. The law also includes the enhancement of the public's understanding of water resources and aquatic life forms, and the development of responsible attitudes toward the aquatic environment as part of the program purpose. The enacting legislation was originally known as the Dingell/Johnson Act.

Also a "user pays-user benefits" program, the original act created an excise tax on sport fishing equipment. And again, similar to the Wildlife Restoration Program, money is apportioned back to the states by a formula based on size of the state and the number of fishing license holders. Over the years, the program has seen several modifications, each adding a little more responsibility and funding. The most significant change occurred with the Wallop-Breaux amendment in 1984 when a motorboat and small engine fuel tax was added causing a significant jump in the amount money available to the state. Today, funding is provided via federal excise taxes on fishing equipment, trolling motors and flashers, motorboat and small engine fuels tax, and import duties on tackle, pleasure boats, and yachts.

With all the various program changes over time, the whole process of collecting and dispersing Sport Fish Restoration money has become a bit complicated, but the most basic features of the program requires that 15 percent of the money be used for boat access development and maintenance, and the remaining money to be used for fish management and research; however, up to 15 percent may also be used for aquatic resource education.

In 2005, Missouri Ranked 9th among states with an apportionment of $7.13 million. Most of the Missouri money is directed to statewide fisheries management work and fish stocking, approximately $4 million per year. Boating access development and maintenance is next averaging about $1 million per year, followed by aquatic resource education at about $700,000 and fisheries research at about $250,000 per year.

Oddly as it may seem, an important change for the future of this program was addressed in the new Transportation Bill recently passed by Congress in July. The bill included several fish and wildlife conservation provisions including a provision that recoups the 4.8 cents per gallon gasoline excise tax that was originally intended for the Sport Fish Restoration Program but had been previously been diverted to the general fund. The recovery of this money means that Missouri should see an annual apportionment increase by approximately $2.5 million. Good news for anglers, boaters, and all Missourians interested in the conservation of Missouri's aquatic resources.

While the conservation sales tax has done wonders for Missouri's fish and wildlife resources, our ability to stretch state dollars by using available federal money through these and other federal programs helps us to "move" that much faster. Be assured that your tax dollars are hard at work and take pride in knowing that these programs have stood the test of time because they are effective in doing what they were created to do - conserve and restore the fish and wildlife of Missouri.

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Region 3: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Phone: 612/713-5130
Last updated: December 15, 2009