Anniversaries are always a good time to take stock. On Saturday, September 24, the 50th anniversary of the National Hunting and Fishing Day is commemorated. If it weren’t for two important conservation laws, there wouldn’t be much to celebrate outdoors today.
The Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson) was signed into law in 1937 and requires excise taxes from firearms and ammunition manufacturers on selected products to fund conservation. Congress added archery equipment to the mix 50 years ago. The Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson) did the same thing for fishing gear, which came into existence in 1950. The two acts combined have done more for conservation and fish and game than one can fully comprehend .
In 1937, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources invested Pittman-Robertson funds in what is now the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area on the Great Salt Lake. That public land provides a tremendous amount of waterfowl habitat and a public hunting opportunity. The bar had been set high from the start, and a cascade of successes followed over the years. Earlier this year, funds from Pittman-Robertson paid for the acquisition of the 84-square-mile L-Bar ranch in northern New Mexico, which increased and quadrupled the size of the Game Department’s Marquez Wildlife Management Area. and New Mexico Fisheries, public land where Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and Merriam’s wild turkey abound.
Among those bookend land purchases, Pittman-Robertson has provided the funds for state fish and wildlife agencies to acquire delta swamps in Mississippi, bayou in Arkansas, flooded timber in New York, prairie potholes and pheasant fields in the Great Plains, deer, grouse, and squirrel forests in the Midwest, all public wildlife management areas. In total, 36 million acres of wildlife habitat across the country, nearly the same size as Iowa, is managed for wildlife and public access by state fish and wildlife agencies.
Just a few decades ago, white-tailed deer were not such a common sight. Not true today. And consider this: moose have returned to several eastern states, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. Virginia holds its first moose hunt starting next month, its first moose season in modern times.
Whether you like to poke holes in paper with a small-bore firearm, practice drawing your bow, shoot clays, or aim your rifle for your next big game hunt, public target shooting ranges are there for you, from Alaska. to Florida. In the past three years, more than 850 cookstoves were designed, built or operated with funding from Pittman-Robertson. A new range opened in Fairbanks last month and the newest celebrates its grand opening next week in Palm Beach, Florida.
On the fisheries side, Dingell-Johnson provides the funds necessary for day-to-day fisheries management operations at state agencies. Biologists need boats, fuel, nets, and specialized equipment to get the job done, to assess and manage fish populations in the wild.
Fish hatchery work is very labor intensive; In 2021 alone, 321 state fish hatcheries produced a billion fish from more than 75 sport fish species in public waters.
Let’s take a closer look at the work of hatcheries: 30 states raise largemouth bass; 23 states raise northern pike, pike, and muskie; 32 states raise walleye and sausage; 41 states raise rainbow, brook, brown, lake, golden and cutthroat trout; 21 states raise and stock white bass and striped bass. Dingell-Johnson pays for all this work.
And let’s not forget access for boaters and fishermen. Dingell-Johnson has funded 9,000 boat launches across the country. Other access projects are less conspicuous, such as roadside setbacks to access creeks. The largest event in competitive sport fishing, the Bassmaster Classic often centers on boat ramps paid for with Dingell-Johnson funds, maintained and operated by state wildlife agencies.
85-year partnership between state wildlife agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and industry has produced major conservation successes that make National Fish and Game Day even more meaningful . Fishing weapons and the main hunting and target shooting tools are the currency of conservation. This year, $1.1 billion was available under Pittman-Robertson and $399 million under Dingell-Johnson.
I encourage you to take someone new or reconnect with friends and family, fish and hunt. Introduce them to the workings of nature and reacquaint yourself with the innocent wonder revealed in the eddies of a stream or the orange capillaries of first light breaking on the deer stand.