By John Bradley
2022 marks the 85th anniversary of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. For hunters and conservationists, this anniversary stands as a testament to the power of the sportsman-conservation community and should fuel within us a sense of pride. Given the current state of politics in our country, it is easy to forget the many successes that we as sportsmen have had; not only in the conservation of our fish and wildlife resources but also in contributing to the overall good of our country.
The Pittman-Robertson Act, which targets the protection of game species, diverts an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition to the Department of the Interior. The Department then allocates the diverted funds to pay for state-initiated wildlife restoration projects such as the acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, wildlife research, and hunter education programs. A significant component of the Act requires that license and permit fees collected by a state fish and wildlife agency must stay with the agency. Neither the license revenues nor the excise tax can be diverted to any other government entity. The dedicated funding from Pittman-Robertson and complimentary legislation like the Federal Duck Stamp and Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Act, provides state wildlife agencies with the funds they needed for habitat, research, and education. This dedicated funding for our fish and game species is widely credited for bringing the white-tailed deer, black bear, waterfowl, and countless other game and non-game species back from the edge of extinction.
Despite those strides, today we find ourselves in a similar predicament. Nearly one-third of America’s species are at an increased risk of extinction, with a vast majority being non-game. Without effective conservation programs, iconic species, like the whooping crane, monarch butterfly, and the western meadowlark, along with some not-so-iconic species like the Dakota skipper, piping plover, and the rusty patched bumblebee face an uncertain future.
Proposed legislation, dubbed the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” (RAWA), addresses this crisis by dedicating $1.3 billion annually for state level conservation and $97.5 million to tribal nations to restore wildlife populations and prevent fish and wildlife from becoming endangered. The legislation allows wildlife experts to implement science-based strategies, and on-the-ground projects for recovering and restoring the species that need the most intervention, as outlined in their congressionally-mandated State Wildlife Actions Plans. Development of these plans was led by state fish and wildlife agencies in coordination with a wide array of public and private partners. However, current funding levels for the implementation of these plans is inadequate. RAWA will enable state fish and wildlife agencies to fully execute these plans for the first time in the more than 20 years since their development. This latest conservation package aims to bring wildlife management into the 21st Century.
Amid extreme partisanship in Washington D.C., conservation seems to be one area where Republicans and Democrats can still find common ground. Over the last few years, we have seen large conservation packages find bipartisan support and move through Congress. The Great American Outdoors Act, America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, and the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act were all signed into law under President Trump.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act currently making its way through Congress looks to build on those victories. RAWA passed through the House Natural Resources Committee last month with a 29-15 vote. The bill’s next step is to head to the floor of the House of Representatives to be voted on.’
If Congress sends RAWA to President Biden’s desk, it would be the biggest bipartisan conservation victory of the Biden presidency and a major win for wildlife. Like most hunters, I can’t name many Representatives or Senators from 85 years ago or remember their policy platforms. But hunters and conservationists do remember the names Pittman and Robertson, and the legacy that the Pittman-Robertson Act had and continues to have on our wildlife. Likewise, 85 years from now our grandkids and great grandkids probably won’t remember the names of our current politicians, what party they were from, or what the partisan issue of the day was, but maybe, with a bit of luck and a bit of urging from sportsmen to pass RAWA, they’ll remember the legacy that we created for our fish and wildlife back in the 2020s.
John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors Contributing Writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
On Capitol Hill. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act sits before the U.S. House of Representatives awaiting action with a “do pass” recommendation out of committee, 29-15. Passage of the bill would likely be the biggest conservation win for American wildlife in more than eight decades. DEO Photo by John Bradley.