Testimony before the House
Resources Committee - United States House of
Chairman Young, Members of the Committee:
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this very
important hearing today. The views I express in this testimony are
my own and should not be construed as representing any official
position of The Heritage Foundation.
While I do not represent in any official capacity state
officials who manage wildlife programs, I do express sentiments and
views that are shared by many of them who have spoken directly to
me or communicated these views to me through others. As you might
suspect, there is some fear that openly expressing concerns about
the integrity of this program would result in retribution against
their state program.
In addition to commending you and your staff for your work on
this hearing, I would like to express my gratitude and that of many
sportsmen across the country to the National Wilderness Institute
for its persistent efforts to bring to public and congressional
attention the issues with which you deal today. A willingness to
stand with career civil servants who have spent a lifetime working
to enhance our nation's wildlife and to assure that the millions of
dollars sportsmen and women provide for wise management of
resources that we believe are important and valuable are used for
this purpose led them to undertake investigations that resulted in
this hearing and, hopefully, the restoration of integrity to a
government program. Their work has been invaluable to this end.
It is a privilege for me to testify on the operation of the
Federal Aid to Wildlife programs. I have a somewhat unique
perspective on these laws since I saw them from both the federal
perspective of Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at
the Department of the Interior and from the state perspective as
Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
These experiences convinced me that the only way we can be
successful at conserving and enhancing wildlife is for primary
jurisdiction over wildlife to be retained by the states. State fish
and game agencies and private property owners are far better able
to create appropriate, workable site and situation specific
conservation programs while -- as we heard from Mr. Beers and the
General Accounting Office -- centrally planned programs over time
become politicized, ideological, and ineffectual in the field.
From the beginning in 1937, the goal of the Pittman-Robertson
Act was to provide maximum funds for use on the land. The original
bill was drafted by Carl Shoemaker, who had worked as a lawyer and
newspaperman before becoming Director of the Oregon Fish and Game
Commission and then coming to Washington as a staff investigator of
the Senate Special Committee on Conservation of Wildlife Resources.
His proposal to allocate the excise tax on sporting arms and
ammunition to the states for game management was enthusiastically
endorsed by the hunting community and the firearms industry.
But they asked for one improvement. Shoemaker had proposed
allowing the Biological Survey, the forerunner of the FWS, to
retain 10% for administration. Charles Horn of the Federal
Cartridge Company objected, saying as much as possible should go to
conservation. Shoemaker at first held out for 10% but finally
agreed to lower it to a maximum of 8%. Years later, in 1960,
Shoemaker wrote, "Mr. Horn was right." Until the past few years,
the most that was gobbled up in Washington was 5%.
The Pittman-Robertson Act is based on the remarkably
straightforward idea of using an excise tax on guns and ammunition
to provide a secure funding base for state fish and game
departments. The idea first surfaced in the 1920s after repeated
attempts to create a federal hunting license were wisely defeated
The rapidly rising incomes of the 1920s and the increase in
leisure time combined with the new mobility provided by the
automobile created explosive growth in the numbers of hunters and a
corresponding concern among sportsmen that there would soon be few
places left to hunt and that game populations would be depleted by
over-hunting. In Europe, hunting and fishing were the privilege of
nobleman; but America was different, and sportsmen wanted to find a
way to preserve our country's outdoor heritage and maintain hunting
opportunities for everyone.
The genius of the Pittman-Robertson Act is that, in reality, it
is more of a user fee than a tax. And like all the really
beneficial wildlife laws, it was not designed merely to restrict
the taking of wildlife but to increase the supply of natural
resources. It was set up to expand opportunities for public hunting
by having hunters pay for scientific wildlife management programs
that create a harvestable surplus of game. In many ways, it is the
first supply-side approach to conservation.
Game laws go back to the colonial era. But the early game laws
simply sought to ration dwindling stocks of wildlife. That approach
does not work. What works are conservation programs that recognize
that renewable natural resources such as wildlife are resilient and
dynamic and respond positively when managed wisely.
The restoration of the wild turkey is a prime example of a good
conservation program fostered by the Pittman-Robertson Act and
carried out by the states and sportsmen's groups such as the Wild
Turkey Federation. In 1937, the wild turkey was endangered. By
1968, they were plentiful thanks to a 30-year effort based on
scientific research into the turkey's habitat requirements and an
active program of trapping and relocating wild birds. Today, there
are more wild turkeys than there were when Columbus arrived in this
hemisphere, and they now are found beyond their original range,
occurring in every state except Chairman Young's state of
It may be politically incorrect in some circles to say this, but
the fact is that sportsmen -- and sportswomen -- hunters and
fishermen -- have paid for wildlife conservation in this country.
Most state fish and wildlife departments get their budgets almost
entirely from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. It is
interesting to note that even this source of state funding has been
secured by the Pittman-Robertson Act.
When Congressman Willis Robertson (a Virginian, I might add, and
a Democrat) was first shown a copy of the Senate bill, he penciled
in twenty-nine additional words and said, "With this amendment, I
will gladly introduce the bill in the House." His amendment said
that no state that diverts hunting license fees from its fish and
game department and uses the money for any other purpose would be
eligible for federally collected aid for wildlife. Before being
elected to Congress, he had served on the Virginia Game and Inland
Fisheries Board and wanted to be sure that the existence of federal
conservation dollars did not tempt state legislators to direct
hunting license fees to other uses.
After more than sixty years, it is remarkable how little
Congress has changed this law and how effective its consistency has
been. In fact, it has served as a model for subsequent laws such as
the Dingell-Johnson Act, an essentially parallel law that uses an
excise tax on fishing equipment to help state efforts to improve
sport fishing resources.
I have mentioned all this history to try to show how
irresponsible and damaging it is to allow these very special
sportsmen-financed programs to be looted to pay for unrelated costs
such as wasteful travel or employee's moving expenses or to cover
budget shortfalls for offices that did not bother to live within
their means. It is particularly offensive to hear about the
contemptible efforts of political appointees to curry favor with
politically connected anti-hunting groups by trying to steer them
grants from these funds.
I should mention that Congress in 1950 even denied itself the
power to redirect these funds by giving Pittman-Robertson funds
permanent, indefinite appropriations status which automatically
transfers the taxes collected to the Fish and Wildlife Service for
apportionment to the states.
I believe Congress should now similarly restrict the Service's
ability to play games with these funds. As a state official, I
found the Service was reluctant to fund tried and true conservation
efforts and instead uncritically favored even required novelty and
new programs in order for states to access all the dollars for
which they were eligible. This encourages a kind of grantsmanship
that is a disservice to the program. It also diverts important
resources from the management tasks at hand that are proven to be
I also want to call to your attention to the fact that the
Dingell-Johnson Act uses more specific language to direct the
grants to "fish which have material value in connection with sport
or recreation…." The Pittman-Robertson Act uses the
undefined terms "wildlife restoration project."
In practice, the restoration projects that have been funded have
mostly been for species of interest to sportsmen, and this without
doubt is the original Congressional intent. But in light of the
recent misadventures downtown, it is time to add words similar to
the Dingell-Johnson language to the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Non-hunters interested in wildlife should take delight in the fact
that when a wildlife management area with public hunting is
created, it secures habitat for all species. Far from being a
federal subsidy for hunters, the hunters and fishermen are
willingly paying for conservation programs that benefit
This Committee should also see to it that the interest of the
Act's earliest supporters, Shoemaker, Robertson, and Horn, as well
as most Members who have been supporters of this program in the
ensuing years, in having as much as possible of the money go to
work in the field is realized and restored. Administrative costs
were kept to 3% or 4% during most of the Act's history. The 8% that
has been gobbled up during the last few years should be cut.
Why, in an age of automation, are administrative costs
increasing? Why, in a time when state agencies are recognized as
having great success in managing their states' resources, are
federal administrative costs increasing? The Interior
Department should not be permitted to use the Pittman-Robertson,
Dingell-Johnson funds for anything not allowed under the law at the
state agencies. Money derived from these funds should be similarly
restricted, and missing or misallocated funds should be restored
and distributed to the states.
In specific, allow me to offer a few recommendations. The first
recommendation is to eliminate any administrative fees for whatever
federal agency is determined to administer the Acts. The second
recommendation is to forbid the use of Pittman-Robertson money for
species that states do not allow to be harvested. Third, assure all
future Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funds are "matched"
before using any license money for non-game fund matching. The last
recommendation is to define a "wildlife restoration project" as one
that is designed to enhance a species or the habitat of a species
that sportsmen are permitted to harvest during legal seasons.
1987 was the 50th anniversary of the
Pittman-Robertson Act. I was at the Department of the Interior that
year, and we published a history of the law called Restoring
America's Wildlife. It contained the following passage: "The
Pittman-Robertson Act has a long history of excellent performance,
free of scandals and serious problems." Many of you on this
Committee were serving in the Congress at that time and had
maintained a vigilant eye over the program to help assure such a
statement could be made.
Sadly, today, we can no longer make that statement, but today
you can start to restore the program.
And if you are guided by the wisdom of the program's early
supporters and the commitment that has been the Congress's up to
this time with regard to this program and make the changes
necessary to correct the abuses and misconduct of the current
leadership at Interior, and if the supporters of sound wildlife
management stay vigilant, and if the Second Amendment survives, and
if Nintendo games do not completely obliterate the interest of
young people in wholesome outdoor pursuits -- if all these things
happen -- and I think they will -- then 38 years from now, on the
100th anniversary of Pittman-Robertson, someone will
write that the Pittman Robertson Act has a long history of
excellent performance with only a brief period of scandal, but that
the problems were quickly corrected by the 106th Congress.
Norton Dunlop is Vice President for External Relations at
The Heritage Foundation