Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act
Bringing Wildlife Back -- Then
America the Beautiful is still the
home of wondrous numbers and varieties of wild creatures.
Yet, only a few decades ago, wildlife's survival was very
much in doubt. The early settlers had encountered a
spectacular abundance of wildlife. But, in their zeal to
conquer an untamed continent, they squandered that legacy
for centuries, wiping out some species and reducing others
to a pitiful remnant of their original numbers.
Then a remarkable thing happened.
At the urging of organized sportsmen, State wildlife
agencies, and the firearms and ammunition industries,
Congress extended the life of an existing 10 percent tax on
ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting, and
earmarked the proceeds to be distributed to the States for
wildlife restoration. The result was called the Federal Aid
in Wildlife Restoration act, better known as the
Pittman-Robertson (or "P-R") Act after its principal
sponsors, Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, and Representative
A. Willis Robertson of Virginia. The measure was signed into
law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1937.
Since then, numerous species have
rebuilt their populations and extended their ranges far
beyond what they were in the 1930's. Among them are the wild
turkey, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, wood duck,
beaver, black bear, giant Canada goose, American elk, desert
bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion, and several species of
Shared Costs, Shared Benefits
Federal Funding from P-R pays for
up to 75 percent of project costs, with the States putting
up at least 25 percent. The assurance of a steady source of
earmarked funds has enabled the program's administrators,
both State and Federal, to plan projects that take years to
complete, as short-term strategies seldom come up with
lasting solutions where living creatures are involved.
In the more than 50 years since P-R
began, over $2 billion in Federal excise taxes has been
matched by more than $500 million in State funds (chiefly
from hunting license fees) for wildlife restoration.
Benefits to the economy have been equally impressive.
National surveys show that hunters now spend some $10
billion every year on equipment and trips. Non-hunting
nature lovers spend even larger sums to enjoy wildlife, on
travel and on items that range from bird food to binoculars,
from special footwear to camera equipment. Areas famous for
their wildlife have directly benefited from this spending,
but so have sporting goods and outdoor equipment
manufacturers, distributors and dealers. Thousands of jobs
have been created.
Managing Lands for Wildlife
Of the P-R funds available to the
States, more than 62 percent is used to buy, develop,
maintain, and operate wildlife management areas. Some 4
million acres have been purchased outright since the program
began, and nearly 40 million acres are managed for wildlife
under agreements with other landowners.
Various kinds of land have been
acquired, including winter rangelands necessary for big game
animals in the North and West, and wetlands, essential to
ducks and geese for nesting, wintering, and stopover feeding
and rest during migrations.
Along with land acquisition, better
management methods have yielded remarkable results. Some
examples include creating small waterholes in the southwest
so that wildlife may drink; planting trees and shrubs in
some Great Plains localities as woody cover to shelter
pheasants, quail and other wildlife during winter storms;
creating clearings in heavily wooded areas of the Northeast
to provide more varied food and shelter for deer, woodcock,
rabbits, and ruffed grouse; and controlled burning of brush
and tall grass in parts of the South to stimulate growth of
seed-producing plants for wild turkey and quail.
Research: Science Replaces
P-R has aided greatly aided in a
nationwide effort to enlist science in the cause of wildlife
conservation. About 26 percent of P-R funding to the States
is used for surveys and research.
Surveys, now employing computers
and space-age technology, provide solid information on the
location and activities of species, the make-up of their
population by age and sex, and whether their numbers are
rising or declining -- essential data in managing the
species and its habitat.
Research has disclosed surprising
answers to former riddles about wildlife's needs for food,
cover, and breeding success. For example, it has shown that
big game animals do not directly compete with livestock for
food. Research findings have enabled managers to keep wild
creatures in balance with their environments and to permit
more people to enjoy wildlife without endangering the future
of any species. State researchers using P-R funds have
developed such tools as tranquilizing dartguns to capture
animals, and miniature radio devices to track them.
Non-Hunters and Non-Game
Although Pittman-Robertson is
financed wholly by firearms users and archery enthusiasts,
its benefits cover a much larger number of people who never
hunt but do enjoy such wildlife pastimes as birdwatching,
nature photography, painting and sketching, and a wide
variety of other outdoor pursuits. Almost all the lands
purchased with P-R money are managed both for wildlife
production and for other public uses. Wildlife management
areas acquired by the States for winter range also support
substantial use by hikers and fishermen, campers and
picnickers. Wetlands for summer waterfowl nesting are useful
to nature lovers in other seasons. Recent estimates indicate
about 70 percent of the people using these areas are not
hunting, and in some localities the ratio may go as high as
Numerous non-game species enjoy P-R
benefits, too. Ground cover for game birds is also used by
all sorts of other birds and small animals. Bald eagles
benefit significantly under careful management of forested
areas where they typically nest. Fortunately, the
Pittman-Robertson act does not restrict use of funds to game
species, but instead allows their use for any species of
wild bird or mammal.
Hunter Safety and Sportsmanship
Congress in the early 1970's
expanded the P-R revenue base to include handguns and
archery equipment, and authorized States to spend up to half
those revenues on hunter education and target ranges.
Hunter education is designed to
make each hunter aware of how his/her behavior affects
others. Hunters learn safe and proper handling of hunting
equipment, responsible hunting conduct afield, the
identification of wildlife and understanding of its habits
and habitats, and respect -- for the animals, and for other
hunters, landowners, and the general public.