Although wildlife is a publicly owned resource, it receives relatively little public funding. In Oklahoma and Texas, general tax revenues do not support the states' wildlife management efforts. Funding for wildlife management in these states primarily comes from licenses, access or permit fees, and federal excise taxes on sporting goods and boat fuel.
A smaller amount comes from charitable donations, state department merchandise sales, fines, etc. Most state wildlife funding is earmarked for game species simply because hunters and fishermen generate most of the income. Hunters and fishermen worked to establish licenses, the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, the 1950 Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, and other wildlife conservation funding mechanisms.
Most wildlife species are not game species; thus, most wildlife species are generally not hunted or fished. Although state wildlife departments have done their best to manage the multitude of nongame species, they generally have very limited funds available to study and manage these species.
However, some help may be forthcoming. During October 1998, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives and the Reinvestment and Environmental Restoration Act was introduced in the US Senate. One or both Acts should continue making progress this year. They are sponsored by 21 Representatives and 11 Senators. Basically, these bills would allocate a portion of the federal income from offshore oil and gas leases to the states for coastal conservation issues, wildlife conservation, and recreation and parks.
Another initiative, which slowed or possibly stopped because the above mentioned legislation addresses similar needs, is called the Fish and Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative, nicknamed "Teaming with Wildlife." It proposes adding an excise tax to wildlife feeders, wildlife feed, nest boxes, field guides, camping gear, binoculars, and similar equipment and supplies.
Photography equipment, film, and recreational vehicles were also considered for the excise tax. The excise tax would be earmarked for state level wildlife conservation, outdoor recreation, and environmental education. Over 3,000 outdoor equipment businesses and conservation groups endorse "Teaming with Wildlife." However, it faces opposition from anti-tax groups and some outdoor equipment businesses.
If successful, any of this legislation would provide much-needed public funding at the state level for stewardship of publicly owned wildlife resources. If successful, such legislation would probably represent the most important development in the wildlife conservation field in several decades.
At the local level, an Oklahoma House Bill proposes dedicating 25% of the Oklahoma sales tax receipts, generated by the sale of hunting, fishing and wildlife observation equipment, to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Currently these sales tax revenues go into the general tax coffers. This could represent a tremendous help to Oklahoma's wildlife management programs.
Generally, none of us wants public revenues diverted to special interests or the creation of new taxes. Nevertheless, we share responsibility for proper stewardship of resources entrusted to us. As a society, we have somewhat neglected this stewardship of nongame resources.
Note: By the time you read this article, significant actions may have occurred regarding the proposed legislation. These articles must be written 1-1.5 months before you receive them to allow time for editing, formatting, printing, and mailing the newsletter.