Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Why a Free Ride?

I’m a wildlife watcher and photographer, a hiker and enjoy paddling a canoe. It’s been over 50 years since I bought a hunting license and almost as long since I had a fishing license. H and I contribute to a number of conservation organizations, both local and national. And yet, in many ways I’m getting a free ride – how? why?

Both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission are primarily funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

Both agencies have the responsibility of managing all of the state’s wildlife – mammals and birds by the Game Commission, cold-blooded creatures by the F&BC. The Game Commission has funded the restoration of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, the F&BC has funded research on timber rattlesnakes and hellbenders.

Excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle provide the agencies with additional funding for wildlife management. Those taxes are taxes that we who are wildlife watchers and photographers don’t pay.

Folks like me who watch birds or photograph salamanders or … have, in large measure, gotten a free ride from the agencies and those who financially support them we use their lands and waters and enjoy seeing eagles and dragonflies without contributing financially.

And why have we gotten a free ride? Partially tradition, partially the agencies’ reluctance to answer to another very different constituency, partially because we all like getting something for nothing. The percent of the population who hunt and fish has been slowly diminishing for years. An increasingly urbanized population values wildlife differently, placing increased emphasis on non-consumptive activities. Both agencies are having some degree of financial difficulty and have been seeking additional funding.

And so it’s time for those of us who have been enjoying a free ride courtesy of others to pay for the management of the wildlife we profess to love. Be it a user fee, an excise tax (on nature guides, bird feed, binoculars, cameras and telephoto lenses); a combination of the two or some other mechanism, we have an obligation to provide funding to wildlife management agencies just as they have an obligation to manage for songbirds and salamanders.

This is an addendum (rant if you will) prompted by the second comment to this post:

The management of wildlife in Pennsylvania is not, with minimal exceptions, funded by general tax revenue. In many other states wildlife management is funded by all taxpayers, here the management agencies are for all practical purposes funded solely by those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission owns and manages over 1,000,000 acres throughout the state. The Fish and Boat Commission owns and manages lakes and does much on-the-ground enforcement of clean water regulations. The land and lakes are open to all – to watch birds, photograph butterflies, hike or walk the dog. Without the hunters and fishers those 1,000,000 acres and those lakes would be privately owned and not available to everyone as they are now.

Should the agencies receive funding from all the citizens of the state? Certainly, but do we really want that funding dependent on the whims of the legislature? If we want land managed for golden-winged warblers or efforts made to protect the clean water that salamanders require it’s only reasonable for birders and photographers to contribute to the funds that those endeavors require. The longer we fail to do that, the more likely it is that the agencies will stop devoting a portion of their dwindling resources to non-game species.

I'm tired of being a freeloader and want someone who shares my interests to have a seat at the table when management decisions are made -- how about you?


Jenn Jilks said...

That is an interesting point of view!
(ツ) from Jenn Jilks , ON, Canada!

Jackie M said...

First time reader.
Guess your post really stopped me in my tracks.
Excise tax on nature guides and binoculars? Really? The people who use those items take nothing from the land and are in general good stewards.
Hunters and fisher folk get to take trophies and food. The license is to make sure they don't take too much or at the wrong time and for enforcement of those well needed guidelines.
I guess if you need to charge an admission fee but then you have to hire even more people, and you know the way that goes...

The Furry Gnome said...

I agree, in principle, but I don't really know how the Canadian situation compares.

RickD said...

Also a first time reader. In Oregon where I live and in nearby Southwest Washington where I spend a lot of time birding, we pay daily use fees on National Wildlife Refuges. It's not a large amount of money, but it is a contribution. A lot of us buy Duck Stamps, too. Many of us volunteer for a variety of wildlife conservation organzations, including USFW. I volunteered for a number of years as a docent at a local USFW refuge. I was there most every Sunday, 3-5 hours per shift, answering visitor questions and educating the public on nature topics, the refuge and its policies. I attended volunteer trainings and meetings on my own time. Volunteers and Friends groups keep many refuges running, assisting with operations, public outreach, fundraising, planning, and maintenance. Imagine if we had to pay all those volunteers for their efforts and time. Very few of the volunteers I worked with were hunters or fishermen. None of them balked about paying a use fee on the days they didn't volunteer and none of them complained about not being paid for their volunteer hours. Funding comes in many forms. Volunteering is one of them.

Robert Folzenlogen said...

Agree whole-heartedly that we should financially support the protection and maintenance of natural ecosystems through taxation, usage fees (i.e. State and National refuges) and by donating to Conservation Organizations. This approach both demonstrates our commitment and diminishes the tendency of State and Federal Wildlife Agencies to favor hunting and fishing organizations. While I am not opposed to those activities (when appropriate) they exert too much control over policies governing what little natural habitat remains in this country. Thanks for your post.