OK: Important wildlife conservation funding program celebrates 75 years

Most Oklahoma sportsmen could not imagine their state without
the whitetail deer, but hunters today harvest record and
near-record numbers of whitetails year after year. Additionally,
the once-scarce wild turkey is now hunted in all 77 Oklahoma
counties, and sportsmen enjoy other generous hunting seasons, lush
habitats and millions of acres of water available for fishing. But
it is only through their own commitment to hunting and fishing that
fish and wildlife thrives today in the state – namely through their
purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and through their
participation in the now 75-year-old federal Wildlife and Sport
Fish Restoration program.

Prior to the late 1930s, wildlife had grown scarce in Oklahoma due
to unregulated overharvesting of game dating as far back as the
days of settlement and early statehood. But the establishment of
what is now the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and
the work that followed through hunter participation and the
Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program has helped restore
Oklahoma’s native wildlife.

The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program is a means of
funding conservation by which hunters and anglers are not only the
primary supporter but also the primary beneficiary, along with
native wildlife and habitat.

On September 2, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the
Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which raises funds through
a dedicated tax on sporting guns and ammunition. These “excise
taxes,” as they are called, are charged by the federal government
to manufacturers of products and usually passed on by the
manufacturers to consumers – in this case hunters. Then in 1950,
the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act was enacted. Through
this law, the same type of taxes are charged to the manufacturers
of certain fishing equipment and boat fuels. As with the Federal
Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, manufacturers generally pass on
these taxes to boaters and anglers.

The federal government collects these taxes, which includes among
others an 11 percent tax on certain firearms, ammunition and
archery equipment and a 10 percent tax on certain sport fishing
equipment. Then the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service administers
and disburses these funds to the state fish and wildlife agencies
as part of what is called the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration
program. Since hunters, anglers, shooters and boaters ultimately
pay these taxes through their purchase of products, it is fitting
that these are the same people who benefit from these funds, since
the states must spend the money on conservation. This includes such
projects as sportfish and wildlife habitat restoration, habitat
development, wildlife population management, user access and
facilities and education.

“It’s frightening to imagine what Oklahoma’s rich traditions of
hunting and fishing might look like today without the Wildlife and
Sport Fish Restoration Program,” said John Stafford, federal aid
coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “This unique partnership
(WSFRP) between hunters, anglers, boaters, recreational shooters,
manufacturers and governments certainly is the backbone of wildlife
conversation funding.”

In Oklahoma, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funds have
been by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for
countless projects to benefit wildlife and the hunters and anglers
who use the outdoors. Land purchases, wildlife proliferation,
habitat restoration, lake and wetland development, hatchery
construction, research, public access to recreational
opportunities, education and many other efforts have resulted from
the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program over the last 75

In short, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) is
one of the most significant and successful partnership approaches
to fish and wildlife conservation in U.S. history.

“The 75th anniversary of the WSFR program is a tremendous
opportunity to celebrate the conservation victories that have been
made possible because of this innovative funding approach,” said
Jonathan Gassett, PhD, president, Association of Fish and Wildlife
Agencies. “WSFR has made the difference for the survival and
abundance of some species, and because of it, many fish and
wildlife populations are at historically high levels today.”

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