Wildlife Management Succumbs to Politics

Wildlife Management Succumbs to Politics

Governors try to solve states' financial woes by stealing from hunters and anglers.

Everyone is feeling the financial crunch, including state governments. Times are tough, but some politicians haven't learned that they cannot balance the budget on the backs of hunters. Hunters pay an 11 percent federal excise tax on hunting equipment, and anglers pay a similar tax on fishing tackle.

Most hunters and fishermen do not complain about paying these taxes, because the monies go into supporting their activities. Within limits, tax revenues gathered off the sales of hunting and fishing gear are returned to state wildlife agencies as a 3-to-1 match to be used for law enforcement, hunter education, and various aspects of wildlife and fish management. Hunting and fishing license monies are used for the match to get these federal monies. This is a very good system that literally keeps every state fish and wildlife agency running.

There is one very important catch here for those who want to "steal" or "borrow" license monies. The laws that created the federal excise taxes clearly state that license revenues cannot be used for anything except wildlife and fish management, and if it is "borrowed" or "taken" by state politicians, the state will lose the federal excise tax, and they will lose it forever or until all license monies are repaid.

This seems quite clear, but now that states are in financial trouble, some governors have forgotten the law. To some who are looking for an easy fix to their states' financial problems, money paid for hunting and fishing licenses looks very inviting.

That brings us to today. Clearly, some politicians don't know, or don't want to know, about the restrictions placed on states regarding the use of license revenues. In South Dakota, for example, House Bill 1002 would take $1 from every hunting and fishing license sold and use it for county road repair. (Note: Hunters and anglers already pay the same gasoline taxes that all other citizens pay for road repair. Can you say double dipping?)

Of course, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks strongly opposes this bill because that agency receives $10 million each year in federal excise taxes. If the state government grabs $1 million of the money paid for fishing and hunting licenses and channels it into road repair, Game, Fish and Parks will lose $3 million -- remember, it's a 3-to-1 match of federal-to-state dollars -- desperately needed to maintain fish and wildlife management programs.

Lest anyone think that's a blow just to programs that support hunting and fishing, think again. It's just as crippling to the management of endangered and non-game species, to hunter education, to wildlife and fish research, to habitat acquisition and improvement for all fish and wildlife. Worse yet, unless this trend is stopped now, Game, Fish and Parks could lose all $10 million of its federal excise taxes next year, the year after that… and on and on.

The political problems in Illinois are no big secret -- one governor impeached recently, and the previous governor in jail for corruption. Well, that's not the end of it. Illinois is another state that has tried to balance its state budget on the shoulders of the state's hunters and anglers. In the fall of 2008, state government took $9.25 million of hunting and fishing license monies to cover budget shortfalls.

Illinois gets about $16 million a year in federal excise taxes as part of its 3-to-1 match. Ex-Governor Blagojevich signed the bill into law that took this money, even though the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service reminded him that doing so would mean a loss of federal excise tax dollars.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending as Illinois' new Governor, Pat Quinn, signed a bill that requires the state government to repay license monies. Quinn also has removed the unqualified head of the DNR that Blagojevich had appointed.

Then there's California. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to "borrow" $30 million of hunting and fishing license monies to help stem the $40 billion shortfall. The state would pay back the loan, with interest, by 2013. Forgive my skepticism, but politicians always pay back borrowed money, right? Fortunately, this story also has a happy ending. As sportsmen and sportswomen screamed, the legislature nixed this "loan" move at the last moment.

Other issues that affect hunting continue to make headlines. The lead-in-deer-meat scare continues, even though data show that Americans who eat venison killed with lead bullets are more than healthy. In North Dakota, soup kitchens will lose tons of donated venison because they now accept venison only from bowhunters. What a waste of much needed meat for the poor.

On a related front, the National Park Service is now calling for a ban on lead ammunition on its lands.

Strict gun laws have not deterred crime. Consider that a seven-year-old database of the gun markings from handguns (200,000 in all) has not led to any prosecutions. It doesn't work, so why are we paying for it? The good news is that Canada is giving strong consideration to canceling the totally-failed long-gun registry.

The U. S. Sportsman's Alliance reports good news and bad news about Obama cabinet appointments. The Secretary of Interior oversees the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The good news is that the new Secretary is Ken Salazar, former head of Colorado's Department of Natural Resources. While Salazar served in that position, the Humane Society of the United States gave him low ratings. That should tell you something about his good qualifications for this job.

The bad news is that Lisa Jackson, former Director of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, is now head of the Environmental Protection Agency. You might recall that Jackson was the person who led the opposition against bear hunts in New Jersey.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, is the fact that Dr. Cass Sunstein now heads up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is in charge of regulatory issues that pass through the White House for evaluation. Google his name and you will find lots of antihunting information on this former animal-rights professor at the Harvard University law school.

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