Pittman-Robertson Act crucial to maintaining Colorado game herds
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Without much fanfare, wildlife managers around the country are celebrating a milestone this month, as the Pittman-Robertson Act turns 75.
If you’ve never heard of the Pittman-Robertson Act, you’re probably not alone, but if you value wildlife, you’ve probably benefited from what might is probably the single most effective funding tool for wildlife management and restoration.
Along with a companion measure — The Dingell-Johnson Act — passed several years later, the 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition has helped restore charismatic species like wild turkeys, bald eagles and peregrine falcons. In Colorado, the funds have also been used to help pay for management and operations at 300 state wildlife areas.
Perhaps the best part, in this era of tight budgets, is that the money is untouchable. If as much as a dollar is used for non-wildlife purposes, the funding dries up.
The Pittman-Robertson Act was passed as a response to dwindling wildlife resources. It took an existing tax that was going to the general treasury and diverted to the Department of Interior, which divides the money according to a formula based in part on the number of registered hunters in each state.
The act was amended in the 1970s, adding a tax for handguns and archery equipment and stipulating that part of the money go toward hunter education.
Together, the two measures have returned more than $13 billion to state wildlife restoration programs, including $340 million to Colorado. In honor of the 75th anniversary, Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed Sept. 2 as Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Day.
“It’s been a quiet, year-long celebration,” said Theo Stein, director of external communication for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, explaning that, over the years, the funding helped restore big game herds that drive Colorado’s $3 billion wildlife recreation economy.
“I would just say that some of those projects are very large,” said Paula Nicholas, federal aid coordinator and grants administrator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A big chunk of the money helps fund large game management, including assessing elk herd sizes and recommending hunting levels.
Funding from the Dingell-Johnson Act helps fund state fish hatcheries and a critical aquatic health lab that tests water from around the state. The excise tax revenues also were a key part of the funding for restoring rainbow trout populations decimated by whirling disease, Nicholas said.
State biologists were able to develop a strain of rainbows that’s resistant to the parasitic disease, yet maintain some of the sport-fish qualities rainbows are renowned for.
The largest single grant from both measures funds operation and maintenance at state wildlife areas, and also helps pay for an access program for hunters and fishermen to state trust lands.
The money also goes toward improving fishing access around the state and the Fishing is Fun program that helps encourage a new generation of anglers.
In Summit County, Dingell-Johnson funds helped pay for a major restoration effort on the Blue River between Frisco and Breckenridge, in partnership with the local open space department, and will also help fund the Swan River restoration project currently under way.
“It’s pervasive across all our programs … this is a program that’s been around 75 years, it’s pretty jaw-dropping,” Stein said. “Think about this across all 50 states. It’s single-most effective wildlife conservation funding mechanism in US history and supports the most effective wildlife conservation efforts in the world. And it was signed at a really tough time for the country,” he concluded.