Wildlife habitat projects seek new funding as hunting licenses decline

Rose Lake State Game Area in Bath Township near Lansing, Michigan. Image: Trail running project.

By Kristia Postema

The national decline in hunting license sales and the need for additional funding for wildlife conservation have prompted proposals to close the fiscal gap, including one that is stuck in Congress despite bipartisan support.

Sales of hunting licenses have helped fund federal and state wildlife conservation efforts for nearly a century, but declining sales could limit those efforts if funding needs are not met, groups say. hunters and outdoor.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, sales of hunting licenses are being discontinued in many states, including those in the Great Lakes region.

Agency data shows that since 2012, the number of hunting licenses sold has declined by 67,490 in Ohio, 28,733 in Indiana, 35,378 in Illinois, 51,591 in Wisconsin and 144,638. in Michigan.

However, this trend is not new, said John Windau, licensing communications coordinator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“In Ohio, hunting licenses peaked in 1949 and have declined since,” Windau said.

Nick Green, public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said funding for wildlife conservation is a “conundrum that we have been examining for several decades.”

Green said the “pay-to-play” method for hunting licenses developed in the early 1900s, when the depletion of natural resources became noticeable.

“The solution was to ask hunters to buy licenses that fund wildlife conservation and habitat rehabilitation,” he said. “It worked for almost 50 years. “

According to Green, the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 also provided funding through federal taxes on firearms, ammunition and other hunting equipment.

“These excess taxes are levied using a formula and distributed among states,” Green said.

Green said these “two levels” of funding depend heavily on hunters, but each year about 2% to 4% of hunters do not renew their licenses.

“Hunters don’t just pay for the white-tailed deer or turkeys they hunt. They also pay for habitats and make sure we have strong, vibrant prairies in Michigan, ”Green said. “Their effort and their dollar go far beyond the simple consuming use of hunting. “

Efforts to make up for the lost funding are being proposed at the federal level, according to Chad Fedewa, wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Fedewa said the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act project would increase funding through “fines paid for violating environmental regulations.”

Drew YoungeDyke, director of sports communications for the National Wildlife Federation, said he hopes the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will become law.

The bill has been introduced in each of Congress’ last three terms, he said, but has not passed.

The bill would provide states, territories and Native American tribes with $ 1.39 billion a year for wildlife habitat projects, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

US Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, is the House’s major sponsor.

“Right now he has a lot of momentum,” and bipartisan support, YoungeDyke said.

However, there has been no action in Washington since a public hearing by the House natural resources subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife in July. A senatorial version is pending in the environment and public works committee.

According to YoungeDyke, a national approach is needed to help underfunded natural resource agencies across the country.

Meanwhile, Michigan United Conservation Clubs are working to find solutions at the local level, Green said.

“We have a public land stewardship program called On the Ground,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying to bring hunters, conservationists and non-hunters together in a habitat project.

The program also helps the public understand the important role hunters play in wildlife conservation, he said.

“Even if you can’t hunt or understand why people hunt, it’s important because that’s what pays for conservation,” Green said.

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