Information Under House and Senate Rules
Testimony before the
House Resources Committee
House of Representatives
July 20, 1999
The Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E.
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 nations 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 in Congress.
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 countrys 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 sportsmens 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 turkeys 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 Youngs state of Alaska.
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 employees
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 Services 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 effective.
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
Pittman-Robertson Act uses the undefined terms "wildlife restoration
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 everyone.
This Committee should also see to it that the interest of the Acts
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 Acts
history. The 8% that has been gobbled up during the last few years should be
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
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 Americas 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 programs early supporters and
the commitment that has been the Congresss 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.
-- Becky Norton
Dunlop is Vice President for External Relations at The Heritage