I was on the Internet the other day and stumbled across a story touting a new “study” that claimed to expose the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation as a bunch of malarky. It seems the authors had an agenda: painting hunters as worthless free loaders who provide only a small fraction of the money required to manage wildlife.
Mark E. Smith and Donald A. Molde of a group called Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife Management, start their “study” by writing: “The authors present a novel approach to help answer the question ‘Who really pays for wildlife in the U.S.?’” And by novel, what they really mean is that they make stuff up to support their belief that hunters are bad guys destroying wildlife under the false premise that they’re paying the bills.
To be clear, hunters and anglers have never paid for wildlife management in its entirety. But folks in wildlife circles understand the important role hunters and anglers play in funding wildlife programs, as well as in supporting key principles of the North American Model. Included in the Model are the ideas that wildlife be managed scientifically as a public trust resource.
To make this possible we pay licenses and fees, and everyone who purchases firearms and fishing equipment pays considerable excise taxes.
The Pittman-Robertson Act was signed into law in 1937 to create the 11 percent excise taxes on firearms. This tax doesn’t go into the general treasury, where it would likely be misappropriated for whatever issue of the week Congress decided to throw money at. The funds are instead redistributed to the states, which are required to use them for wildlife.
The Dingle-Johnson Act in the 1950s established the same type of tax on fishing equipment and boating fuel.
The method Smith and Molde use to answer their novel question is laughable. They cherry pick data, adding up the excise taxes (though they exclude dollars raised by what they deem to be non-hunting firearms) and compare that to the entire budgets of federal agencies such as the Park Service, BLM and Forest Service. This formula allows them to conclude that hunters pay only 5.3 percent of all federal funding for wildlife management. Even if you bought into their faulty apples to oranges comparison, their figures might also demonstrate that hunters pay more for wildlife management than any other constituency. But that’s not how Smith and Molde see the world.
The authors also require you to ignore that most of what federal agencies do isn’t wildlife management at all, but land management. Fire control has grown to 42 percent of the Forest Service budget in recent decades, and fire affects wildlife in ways both good and bad. If the authors had been honest, however, none of that spending would have been included in their non-hunter expenditures for wildlife management.
Smith and Molde also conveniently leave out state wildlife management because, as the authors put it, these agencies are really in the business of “hunting or sportsman related services rather than wildlife management.” They write off the work of state biologists across the West because it makes their anti-hunter figures look even more dramatic. And we know it’s at the state level where most wildlife management occurs. Fortunately, the excise taxes hunters and anglers pay, as well as licenses and fees, gives these agencies a funding source independent from state budgets and the machinations of legislators.
Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife Management appears to be largely an anti-trapping, anti-hunting organization. They may be frustrated that they haven’t had the success they would like implementing their agenda in Nevada. They may even have reasonable gripes about the way state wildlife agencies operate, but their “study” isn’t research, nor is it scholarship.
It’s anti-hunting propaganda. I worry too many will take the bait.
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