For over 80 years, sportsmen have played an integral and unique role in providing the vast majority of conservation funding in the United States through a “user pays — public benefits” structure in which those who consumptively use the resource pay for the privilege, and in some cases the right, to do so. The three pillars to the American System of Conservation Funding include: revenue from sporting licenses, and excise tax revenue from both the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs
For over 80 years, sportsmen and women have played a crucial role in funding conservation efforts in the United States through the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF). The American System is a “user-pays, public-benefits” structure, unique to the rest of the world, in which those that consumptively use public resources pay for the privilege, and in some cases the right, to do so. This funding System has allowed the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to become recognized as the most successful conservation framework in history.
There are three pillars to the ASCF: revenue from sporting licenses, and excise tax revenue from both the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Programs. Hunting licenses were the first example of this “user-pays, public-benefits” structure. In some cases, license sales made the entire funding source for the creation of state wildlife agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources or Fish & Game. Today, most state fish and wildlife agencies receive approximately 80% of their funding through this distinct conservation system, though some states still rely nearly 100% on the funding from sportsmen and women. Later, the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act) and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson Act) set up a system in which excise taxes collected from sporting goods purchases are funneled back into conservation. These excise taxes are used to fund a wide variety of activities including: fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat management, hunter education, shooting range development, land acquisition and easements, and angler access area construction. Since 1939, state fish and wildlife agencies have received over $56.9 billion from sportsmen and women through this funding structure.
Points of Interest
- Most state fish and wildlife agencies are funded primarily (in some cases nearly 100%) by the ASCF.
- In 2023, state agencies received almost $1.2 billion from Pittman-Robertson Funds and Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, and the Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux generated nearly $425 million.
- Through 2017, resolutions celebrating WSFR and the ASCF have been passed in 17 states (AL, AK, CA, CO, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MO, NE, NM, NV, NY, NC, PA, SC, VT, VA).
- In 2021, proclamations were signed by President Biden and governors in 43 states celebrating WSFR and the ASCF.
- During the past few years, CSF and several other sportsmen’s groups were invited by the Department of the Interior to participate in check presentation ceremonies across the country to highlight funds directed to state fish and wildlife agencies through the American System of Conservation Funding.
In recognition of this vital funding mechanism, 25 states have either passed resolutions or signed proclamations commemorating the 75th Anniversary (2012) and 80th Anniversary (2017) of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs and the important role that America’s sportsmen and women play in providing critical funding for state fish and wildlife agencies. A few of the many examples are found below:
- Kansas S 1745: “Be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Kansas: That we recognize America’s hunters, anglers, trappers, boaters, recreational shooters, equipment manufacturers, state fish and wildlife agencies and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for their role in restoring healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and other natural resources, both game and non-game, to the abundance we see today through the American System of Conservation Funding, on this, the 80th anniversary year of America’s greatest conservation story…”
- Louisiana S 67: “…that the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby commend America’s hunters, anglers, trappers, boaters, recreational shooters, industry, state fish and wildlife agencies, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their leading role in restoring healthy populations of fish and wildlife and other natural resources, both game and nongame, to the abundance we see today, and does hereby commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the American System of Conservation Funding.”
Sportsmen and women are the backbone of the ASCF. Their funds and cooperative partnerships should continue to be unaffected and permanently exempted from federal budget sequestration as they are the funds spent by and are fully integrated into the budget and operations of the state fish and wildlife agency. Together with license dollars, these funds are critical to meeting the agency missions and conserving our nation’s vast array of fish and wildlife resources.