The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's announcement this week that it was distributing $1.1 billion to state wildlife agencies, including $14,857,369 to South Carolina, is probably an eye-opener to many, but it's pretty standard news to folks with the Department of Natural Resources who depend on the money.
The money is generated through excise taxes that are part of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration (originated in1937) and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration (originated in 1950) programs, then redistributed back to state agencies.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the total distributions this year are $238.4 million higher than last year because of the inclusion of funds that were not distributed last year because of the government sequester and an increase in excise tax receipts from sales of firearms and ammunition in the Wildlife Restoration Fund.
"It was set up to fund conservation work throughout the country and has been the primary source for all states for wildlife management since the very beginning," said Tim Ivey, chief of wildlife for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"It was actually a large effort by sportsmen themselves to come up with this tax. (Pittman-Robertson) is a manufacturer's tax on arms and ammunition and was amended to include archery equipment. It's an 11-percent excise tax on arms and ammunition at the manufacturer's level."
Ivey said the money is held by the treasury and then distributed back to the states based on a formula which uses the number of hunting licenses sold each year plus the geographic area of the state. Our neighboring states, with larger land masses and larger populations, received significantly more money -- $23.3 million to Georgia and $29.55 million to North Carolina.
Ivey said there are a couple of requirements in order to receive the money. The money has to be protected in that money generated from selling hunting licenses has to be used for wildlife management or administration of wildlife. And for every dollar of federal money received, the state has to match it with 25 cents of state revenue.
"It runs our whole program on the wildlife side," Ivey said. "Out of my office, we handle all field operations. I have about 100 staff, including technicians and some administrative assistants. DNR owns and we manage 88 properties in 38 counties. That's 256,000 acres we're responsible to manage. In addition to that we lease almost a million acres across the state.
"It funds everything from operations to supplies, materials and equipment. We have 575 miles of (dirt) roads on our property, almost 300 miles of trails, 54,000 acres of wetlands and about 25,000 acres in impoundments. That involves maintaining 350 miles of dikes."
Ivey said DNR has 38 dove fields in 26 counties, 10,000 acres in fields and openings and is the largest agricultural operation in the state. The wildlife staff also does environmental reviews and handles nuisance calls for alligators, raccoons and other wildlife."
"We have to be very specific in our grants. We could not use those funds for non-wildlife related issues. For example, we cannot build an equestrian trail or an ATV trail with those funds," he said. "We use it to handle all our operations, all our surveys, harvest analysis. We even fund our furbearer project, small game project, waterfowl management, our black bear project; all those things are funded with those federal dollars.
Ivey said a portion goes to hunter education and shooting ranges because recreational shooters also pay tax on the ammunition at the manufacturer's level. Some of the money goes for hunter education and range development.
Ivey said the money can fluctuate from year to year so operations are based on an average. When extra money is available, DNR tries to use it for larger projects such as land acquisition.
"It's the backbone of every wildlife agency across the country," Ivey said. "We depend on that. It's sportsman funded. Sportsmen asked to be taxed themselves a long time ago and it's been a very successful program."