Capturing federal funds one key to maintaining hunting and fishing programs
Kansas hunters and anglers are losing money. Every time they buy a box of shotgun shells, a new crankbait or just about any other item of hunting and fishing equipment, the price includes a federal excise tax. That excise tax is then distributed back to the states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), based partly on the number of licensed hunters and anglers in each state. The current exemption allowing Kansas residents 65 and older to fish and hunt without a license means that Kansas doesn’t get as much of the excise tax back as it deserves, and money that should be spent on Kansas wildlife and fishery programs is sent to other states.
Kansas Senate Bill 314, currently under consideration in the Kansas House, could stop the flow of money out of Kansas and help ensure the future of our hunting and fishing heritage. In its current form, the bill proposes a Lifetime Senior Hunting and Fishing Combination Pass (Senior Pass) valid for residents 65 and older. The Senior Pass can cost no more than one-eighth the cost of a regular lifetime combination hunting and fishing license, but department officials are committing to a lower fee of $40. If passed, SB314 would allow a Kansas hunter or angler to make a one-time purchase of a Lifetime Senior Hunting and Fishing Combination Pass when they turned 65, and Kansas would receive federal money each year based on that license sale for the next 18 years. The bill also exempts residents 75 and older from hunting and fishing license requirements.
Currently, Kansas receives about $25 in federal aid for each hunting/fishing combination license sold, but losses are substantial due to the senior exemption when you consider that an estimated 33,000 Kansans 65 and older hunt or fish. Officials estimate that the Senior Pass could bring in more than $873,000 in the short-term for wildlife and fishery programs. The estimated revenue could exceed $1.4 million in the long run. However, passing this bill will be even more important in the future because hunters and anglers over 64 are our fastest growing age group.
SB314 also proposes a half-price ($9) annual hunting or fishing license for those seniors not wanting the Senior Pass. The half-price annual license is a great bargain and would count toward federal funding. Supporters of this bill, including many seniors, understand that hunters and anglers pay for all wildlife and fishery programs, and they are rightfully proud of that legacy. It is truly a user-pays system in Kansas, as no State General Fund money is used for hunting and fishing programs. Broadening the funding base will help avoid increasing fees on a smaller number of younger hunters and anglers.
Ensuring adequate funding for conservation programs and keeping outdoor opportunities affordable for all is important to the future of our outdoor heritage. However, it’s just as important for hunters and anglers to be involved in this process by communicating with their legislators. Find the contact information of your senator or representative at www.kansas.gov/government/legislature  and let them know where you stand on outdoor resource issues. They need to hear from a cross-section of people affected by potential changes.
The federal program that returns the federal excise tax money to the states is aptly called the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR), and 2012 marks its 75th anniversary. The program is remarkable both in how much money has been returned to states, more than $14 billion, and in how it came to be. The wildlife portion of this federal program is called Pittman-Robertson (P-R) after the congressmen who proposed the legislation. It was passed in 1937, which was a time when many of our nation’s wildlife resources were in peril. Amazingly, the very people who would be taxed pushed for the bill’s passage – hunters and the firearms industry. These far-sighted people understood that without such a program, our tremendous wildlife and hunting heritage might be lost forever.
In Kansas, we only need look in our backyards to see the amazing recovery of wildlife resources made possible by P-R. Today, Kansans enjoy outstanding hunting opportunities for deer, turkey, waterfowl, and pronghorn, species that were either nonexistent or on the brink of disaster at the turn of the century. In the last 75 years, Kansas has received more than $120 million for wildlife on a 75-25 matching basis; qualified programs are funded with 75 percent coming from P-R and 25 percent from license and permit revenues.
In 1950, Congress passed the Sport Fish Restoration Act, called Dingell-Johnson (D-J) after the bill’s sponsors. Modeled after P-R, D-J established an excise tax on fishing equipment, yachts, pleasure craft and motorboat fuel. D-J has generated nearly $7 billion for fisheries programs and boating access nationwide, with more than $100 million coming to Kansas.
In addition to wildlife species recoveries, WSFR made many of our most popular programs possible, including the fall and spring Walk-In Hunting Access programs, which open more than 1 million acres of privately-owned land to public hunting. WSFR helps fund the Fishing Impoundments and Stream Habitat (FISH) program and the Community Fisheries Assistance Program (CFAP), which provide hundreds of local fishing opportunities. And KDWPT uses WSFR funding to build boat ramps, deliver hunter education classes, and enhance hunting and fishing opportunities on 100 wildlife areas, 40 state fishing lakes, and 24 federal reservoirs.
Our fish and wildlife resources have been dramatically transformed in the last 75 years, and hunting and angling opportunities in Kansas have never been better. None of these changes would have been possible without hunters and anglers paying their way through the purchase of licenses and the excise taxes on equipment. SB314 will ensure this legacy for future generations.