Wisconsin received its first Pittman-Robertson funding -- $31,000 -- in 1939. That total has grown to $197.5 million for habitat development, land acquisition, research, hunter education, restoration, wildlife health and more. Here are a few achievements the funding helped make possible:
Wildlife habitat and restoration
- Manage about 620,000 acres of wildlife areas statewide.
- Reintroduced elk in 1995; the herd was last estimated at 161 in 2011.
- Revived the fisher population in the 1950s and '60s after its extirpation in 1921. In 2011, the population was estimated to be 6,900.
- Reintroduced the wild turkey in 1976 - nearly 100 years after the last native wild turkey was reported killed in 1881.
- Trained 1 million students in hunter education and resulted in significantly improving hunter safety.
- Administer and manage statewide hunter education program which includes nearly 5,000 instructors and graduates 30,000 students each year.
Public shooting ranges
- Develop and maintain public shooting ranges.
- Helped restore the Bald Eagle, trumpeter swan, whooping cranes and other animals listed as endangered species.
- 350 wildlife research projects have been funded.
- More than 60 annual wildlife and hunter surveys done to estimate size and abundance of wildlife populations and harvest.
- Supplemental stocking and monitoring of American marten.
- Established a long-term mercury monitoring and ecological risk assessment program in the Great Lakes.
- Estimated productivity of ducks in relation to wetland and grassland habitat restoration.
- Created and maintain a wildlife health database routinely used to capture and analyze wildlife health data.
- Monitor the impacts of lead exposure to wildlife of Wisconsin and developed an education and outreach plan to reduce the amount of lead ammunition and fishing tackle released into the environment.
- Development of a beach transect surveillance program to monitor botulism related mortality in waterbirds.
- Evaluated environmental contaminants in Wisconsin waterfowl and formulation of consumption advisories.
- Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) operations and administration.
An investment in tough times pays off
With deer still a rare sight in many parts of Wisconsin and the nation's skies grown increasingly silent, U.S. Congress members came together deep in the Great Depression to lay the financial foundation for conserving and restoring wildlife. They approved legislation commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, which established an excise tax on hunting and archery equipment. Sportsmen and women have since invested billions nationwide in restoring and enhancing the great outdoors we enjoy today.
"A good idea has no sides"
Carl Shoemaker's name is not on the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, but his fingerprints are all over it. And Wisconsin's wildlife is stronger because of it.
Since the act became law in 1937, Wisconsin has received about $200 million from this federal program for wildlife habitat development, research, hunter education and much more. The wild turkey was reintroduced in 1976 while more than 1 million students have completed hunter education in Wisconsin.
And a lot of the credit can be traced to a West Coast reporter who had an idea and the persistent energy to push it to reality in spite of the economic stranglehold of the Great Depression.
Who knew? Not many, judging by the stories surfacing nationwide from government and private entities this 75th anniversary year. While the details vary a bit depending upon the storyteller, one theme is constant: Shoemaker brainstormed the idea of a wildlife conservation program funded with an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition idea. He wrote the original draft, then secured support from key stakeholders and convinced two legislators to lead it through Congress - after which it was enacted by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"This is a great story of collaboration among legislators and private groups - and the father of the Pittman-Robertson Program - a journalist," Wisconsin Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark says of the story of Shoemaker, who also received the Aldo Leopold Award in 1951. "Factor in the fact Shoemaker found sponsors -- including the support of the firearm industry -- during the Great Depression no less, and it shows how a good idea has no sides."
'Greatest Story Never Told'
Born in 1882, Shoemaker was working as a lawyer in Ohio when he reportedly grew bored with it. He targeted his energy to reporting when he bought a newspaper in Oregon and served as its journalist and publisher. This was when his passion for conservation was ignited and he became involved with the game affairs in the state of Oregon. He eventually was named director of that state's fish and game department in his mid-30s.
This also was when he began traveling to Washington, D.C., where his connections led him to be named as a key staffer to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on the Conservation of Wildlife Resources. He wrote the original P-R legislation and set out to convince elected officials to sign on to the idea while also courting private groups - such as the firearms industry.
The Pittman-Robertson Act and Shoemaker, who also became the co-founder of the National Wildlife Federation, was dubbed the 'greatest story never told' by the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration group of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society has created the Carl D. Shoemaker Memorial Scholarship for students in wildlife science. The state of Connecticut Energy and Environmental Protection agency credits Shoemaker and the sponsors he enlisted - U.S. Sen. Key Pittman of Nevada and Congressman Willis Robertson of Virginia - as responsible for "one of the most successful federal-state-conservationist-sportsmen partnerships in history" which "gave birth to scientific wildlife management in this country."
Wisconsin's showcase of scientific wildlife management
Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark and Bureau of Science Services Director Jack Sullivan say the benefits of the now 75-year-old partnership between Wisconsin and the federal government can be seen running through the woods or swimming in streams in nearly any county. "The fund is responsible for bringing nearly $200 million into this state for not only wildlife and habitat protection and development, but also for hunter education," Stark said. Wisconsin received its first P -R Act payment in 1939 -- $31,000. Today's total allotment Wisconsin has received since the inception of the P-R Act is about $200 million.
Sullivan points to the trumpeter swan, the bald eagle and the whooping crane to name just three species that have been saved from the brink of extinction thanks to the availability of the dollars to fund management. "Everything that has been learned in the last 75 years also is being modified to be accessible to even more interested readers under today's technology tools that likely were not even dreamed about when the author of this proposal put pen to paper."
"Pittman-Robertson funding is critical for several current projects including. research on buck mortality and fawn predation, estimating Wisconsin's black bear population using tetracycline sampling and investigating causes of Blue-Winged Teal population declines just to name a few," Wildlife and Forestry Research Chief Karl Martin says. "The numerous wildlife management successes in Wisconsin over the past 75 years can be tied directly to P-R funding.
"Future challenges such as habitat loss, changing environmental conditions, wildlife diseases, invasive species, toxins, and increased pressures on our precious natural resources make this key funding source critical for the future of Wisconsin's wildlife," Martin said.
The historic, visionary approach of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, along with the willingness of the ammunitions, archery and shooting sports industry has provided benefits for all citizens far exceeding those of original authors.
Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration
Trumpeter Swans Soar
What: The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was approved by Congress on September 2, 1937, and became effective July 1, 1938.
Why: Originally was to provide funding for restoration of wild birds and mammals and to acquire, develop and manage their habitats. It was amended Oct. 23, 1970, to include funding for hunter training programs and the development, operation and maintenance of public shooting ranges.
Who pays? The Pittman-Robertson Act calls for an 11 percent federal excise tax on archery equipment, ammunition and sporting firearms - plus a 10 percent tax on handguns. This means each time a hunter buys one of these things, the hunter pays the federal excise tax which goes into a fund for distribution to the states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The dollars are distributed based upon a formula.
Follow the money: Excise taxes are collected from the manufacturers by the Department of the Treasury and are apportioned each year to the states by the Department of the Interior on the basis of formulas that consider the total area of the state and its number of licensed hunters. Funds for hunter education and target ranges are derived from one-half of the tax on handguns and archery equipment.
Tight purse strings: 29 words in the act mandate that these dollars are to be used only for the purposes of the P-R program: "…and which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said state fish and game department..."