2017-03-18 / Outdoors

Wolf Tracks

Outdoor Columnist
Dave Wolf

Nothing in life is free, but many enjoy wildlife at the expense of others. It’s an issue that dates back many decades.

In Pennsylvania, the Game Commission is responsible for managing wildlife. The Fish & Boat Commission is in charge of reptiles and amphibians. Neither agency receives state funding.

Hunters and anglers are required to purchase a license. However, for the “non-consumptive” users of our natural resources, there are no fees involved.

Since 1937, a 10-percent federal tax on ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting has generated funds that are distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. Many species have rebuilt their populations and extended their ranges. Benefits to the economy have been equally impressive. Hunters now spend more than $10 billion annually on equipment and trips.

Anglers and boaters also decided to tax themselves. A federal law enacted in 1950 put a tax on fishing equipment and certain boating expenses. Revenue supports state management, conservation, and restoration of fishery resources, as well as boating access and education.


Chipmunks are spread across Pennsylvania, but many other species face challenges as a result of habitat changes, land development and other factors. Taxes on hunters and anglers have paid for wildlife management activities, but that model is inequitable and non-sustainable. 
Karen Wolf photo Chipmunks are spread across Pennsylvania, but many other species face challenges as a result of habitat changes, land development and other factors. Taxes on hunters and anglers have paid for wildlife management activities, but that model is inequitable and non-sustainable. Karen Wolf photo But what about non-game species, which comprise about 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s wildlife?

There’s no dedicated funding for managing or protecting these species.

A quarter-century ago, Congress considered a bill to tax backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, canoes, bird seed, binoculars, and other camping, recreational and birding gear. Funds would have been distributed to states to protect wildlife habitat and otherwise support non-game species.

Support was expressed by the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, numerous manufacturers and retailers, and many individual Senate and House members.

It all fell apart when a trade group representing several large outdoor recreation companies lobbied hard against the bill. At the same time, members of Congress who had pledged to oppose any new federal tax had their feet held against the fire.

In the ensuing decades, we have barely been treading water. The Game Commission recently introduced a proposal to require all state game lands users to buy a hunting license, but that plan was shot down by non-consumptive users.

There may finally be light at the end of the tunnel. A panel of outdoor recreation retailers and manufacturers, energy companies, conservation organizations, and others has been assembled to recommend options to Congress for funding of fish and wildlife conservation.

As the numbers of hunters and anglers continue to fall, it’s time for others to chip in. The future is in our hands. If we want to pass on the legacy of our remarkable natural environment to our children and grandchildren, we must summon the political will to do the right thing.

(Dave Wolf may be reached by email at wolfang418@msn.com.)

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