In Michigan, money raised from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses pays for the bulk of fish and wildlife conservation - and the state's hunters and anglers are justifiably proud of their reputation for paying their own way.
But license fees aren't the only dollars that support conservation in Michigan. For decades, sportsmen have been paying a tax that is also critical to successful long-term management of fish and wildlife.
This year, Sunday, Sept. 2, marks the 75th anniversary of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
"During this landmark year, everyone can do one simple thing - thank hunters for funding 75 years of wildlife restoration," said Steve Beyer, research and management supervisor for the DNR's Wildlife Division. "Thank a hunter for helping support Michigan conservation efforts."
From 1939 through federal fiscal year 2012, Pittman-Robertson funds have provided the states and territories with $7.2 billion for wildlife conservation, restoration and hunter education. Michigan, which currently ranks fourth nationally in total P-R funding, has received $261 million since 1939.
(In 1950, the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act was enacted to do the same good things for fisheries conservation.)
Named after its sponsors Key Pittman (D-Nevada) and Absalom Robertson (D-Virginia), the P-R Act added an 11-percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. The tax is built into the cost of the equipment and is paid by the manufacturers of arms and ammunition at the wholesale level.
The P-R Act has been amended a number of times over the past 75 years to expand funding sources. In 1970, a 10-percent tax was levied on pistols and revolvers, with the caveat that half could be used for hunter safety programs. In 1972, bows, arrows and their parts and accessories were added to the program at the 11-percent rate. In 1984, crossbows were also included in the mix.
Money raised by the P-R Act is allocated to states through a formula based on the total land area of the state and the number of licensed hunters in that state.
"The money is allocated to state conservation agencies," Beyer explained. "In Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources is the recipient."
During the 2011 fiscal year, more than $371 million in excise tax was collected through the P-R Act. This money was apportioned out to states to spend during this current fiscal year. Michigan's portion for fiscal year 2012 is $12.3 million. (Wisconsin's share is $11.3 million.)
These dollars are made available to the DNR in the form of grants for specific projects. Grants are available on a 3-1 matching basis, meaning the DNR must come up with one dollar for every three received in P-R funds. For example, in order for the DNR to receive $750,000 in Pittman-Robertson funding for a $1 million project, it must first provide $250,000 in "match" funds.
"The most common source of matching funds is money collected from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses," Beyer said. Although states are allowed to use other non-federal funding sources to secure matching funds, the P-R Act requires that license fees be used for conservation projects and cannot be diverted for any other use, he said.
"This is the key provision of the act, which ensures that states have matching funds on hand in order to be able to take advantage of available federal grants," Beyer said.
Federal grants are only available for approved projects, which include land acquisition, research, acquisition and maintenance of public shooting ranges, ecological surveys, reintroduction of wildlife species, hunter education programs and habitat improvement. Over the years, the DNR has used P-R funds for all of these purposes.
P-R funds have also directly benefited access to prime hunting areas. The majority of Michigan's Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas were purchased with P-R dollars, matched with money from the sale of "duck stamps" (waterfowl hunting licenses). Recently, partner organizations, particularly Ducks Unlimited, have been providing funds as well.
Hunters, however, are not the only beneficiaries of P-R funds. P-R funds can be used for projects that restore and conserve any bird or mammal species, not just game species. Consequently, these funds have contributed to the restoration of some non-game species (such as bald eagles) and to preserve wild lands that not only benefit wildlife, but can be used and enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts, like mushroom hunters, berry pickers, hikers, birders and others.
"The long and short of it is that P-R funds, along with license fees, have been and continue to be how we fund most wildlife management in Michigan and across the U.S.," said Russ Mason, chief of the DNR's Wildlife Division. "Without P-R funds along with the prevention of diverting license fees to other uses required to get them, conservation in North America would simply collapse."
The contribution made by sportsmen to conservation efforts in Michigan is truly exponential, and has been for the past 75 years.
For that, we should all thank a hunter.