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From the October 2012 Conservationist

Two men hold wild turkeys they have captured under netting

A Legacy of Wildlife Management

75th Anniversary of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program

By Douglas Stang

SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO, wood ducks were nearing extinction and wild turkeys and white-tail deer were scarce. Recognizing the need to correct this downward trend, Congress passed, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law, the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937-key legislation that would help restore and manage wildlife in the United States.

A turkey flies out of a wooden cage into the wild
Biologists release wild turkeys, a
project that began in 1952 in NY.

The Pittman-Robertson Act created a special fund derived from federal excise taxes collected on firearms and ammunition. The funds are given to individual states to use for programs that benefit wildlife restoration efforts. In New York, the Act has been instrumental in supporting wildlife population research and management that led to the recovery of many wildlife populations, including deer, turkey, bear and numerous species of waterfowl. Today, the excise tax extends to include archery equipment and accessories.

Three men at the end of a wooden pier,carrying large buckets containing fish for stocking from a boat
Fish stocking at the Constantia Fish
hatchery, April 1940.

In 1950, based on the success of Pittman-Robertson, another act (called the Dingell-Johnson or D-J Act) was implemented to similarly help the nation's fisheries resources. This act created a special fund derived from a federal excise tax on fishing rods, reels, creels, artificial lures, baits and flies. In 1984, Congress significantly enhanced the fund by passing the Wallop-Breaux Amendment, which expands the act to include taxes on motorboat and small engine fuels, and import duties on pleasure boats and yachts.

Two biologists in a boat measuring a fish
Biologist measuring fish, circa 1980.

Collectively, these acts are known as the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, whose creed is that fish and wildlife are a public trust resource (they belong to all North American residents) and fish and wildlife must be scientifically managed in such a way that their populations will be sustained forever. Since the programs were first implemented, New York has received more than $202 million in federal Wildlife Restoration Program funds, and more than $175 million in federal Sport Fish Restoration money.

Two biologists study a sedated bear
Through the Wildlife and Sportfish
Restoration Program, biologists
have been able to study a variety of
spacies, including finfish, bald eagles,
ruffed grouse, marten and black bear.

In New York State, federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Funds are woven through nearly every aspect of DEC's fish and wildlife programs, funding such projects as reintroduction of declining species, population surveys, species research, acquisition of habitat, restoring aquatic habitat, hunter and aquatic education, development and enhancement of shooting ranges, and construction and maintenance of boat ramps and fishing piers in freshwater and marine environments.

Without such federal support, New York State couldn't sustain the healthy fish, wildlife and marine populations found here. While many people are familiar with the term "user pays, user benefits," the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program is more poignantly a user pays, public benefits program. We all enjoy the fruits of the program's science-based management of these populations, including the quality recreational opportunities these species provide.

Douglas Stang is the assistant director of DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.

Photo: DEC