Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Hikers Need to Pay Fair Share

By Andy Kerr

Column #18 - Go to next column

Length: 746 words

Published: 27 March 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

Unless a species of wildlife is either hunted or fished—or threatened or endangered—it is highly likely that it isn't getting the attention it deserves. Many "non-game" species are moving toward the endangered species list because of neglect; primarily the failure to protect enough of its habitat.

After a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, taxpayers can end up spending hundreds of millions of dollars to recover the species. It would penny-wise to invest in habitat now for the non-hunted and declining species.

For decades, hunters and anglers have paid a small tax on equipment used for their sport. The moneys have gone directly to fish and game conservation. Millions of acres of habitat for species—those that are hunted and fished—have been secured. The wood duck, antelope, white-tailed deer and the striped bass have all been brought back from the brink because of these tax moneys paying for the necessary habitat acquisition, management and research.

According to a 1991 study of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 76.5 million people enjoyed wildlife watching in this country, 35.6 million fished and 14.1 million hunted. The agency has estimated that non-consumptive wildlife appreciation activities accounted for $40 billion of economic activity and supported over 766,000 jobs.

A problem is that most species aren't hunted or fished. While many non-game species have benefited from game management, it has been only co-incidentally.

Another problem is that the majority of outdoor users who don't hunt and fish aren't paying their fair share to protect and enhance fish and wildlife and their habitat.

These problems could be solved if Congress expands the tax on outdoor equipment. Over 1600 different organizations—from conservation groups and equipment manufacturers to pro-hunting and anti-hunting groups—want just that. They have endorsed the "Teaming With Wildlife" campaign that proposes to tax outdoor recreation equipment that is not being already taxed. Currently, guns, ammo, fishing gear, etc. are taxed, but not backpacks, mountain bikes, binoculars, bird feeders, guidebooks, recreational vehicles, and the like. The new tax moneys would be dedicated to help the vast majority of species that aren't hunted, fished, or endangered.

The tax would range from 0.25 to 5% on the manufacturer's price of an item. For example, if a field guide costs $10 in the store and the manufacturer's price is $6 ($6 x 0.05 = 30¢), the consumer would now pay $10.30 cents. That's less than the cost of most newspapers.

An estimated $350 million annually would be returned to the states for wildlife conservation, habitat, education and research projects.

A marketing logo and brief explanation could be included on the product so consumers would know that their purchase is helping wildlife.

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, after the chief sponsors) and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act of 1950, as amended (known as the Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Acts) are the excellent precedents for the proposed Fish and Wildlife Conservation Enhancement Act of 1997.

Hopefully, the legislation will soon be introduced in Congress. Any bill that proposes a new tax faces tough sledding, no matter how rational the reason for the tax and how minimal it is.

There is no getting around it: it's a sales tax. However, it's a small tax on specific items for a specific noble purpose. With this kind of tax, taxpayers know where the money is going.

Here's an opportunity for the range of outdoor users to unite behind a good proposal. It's something that pro-hunting, anti-hunting, hikers, offroad vehicle users and all the rest can support. Many environmental organizations are signed on to the effort, and so should natural resource industry groups. It's a bill that both tree huggers and tree muggers can love.

If non-game species were being better taken care of, we would see less need to put them on the endangered species list; and less need for litigation and conflict over these species.

Please contact Oregon's US Senators and ask them to co-sponsor the proposed legislation. If these two politicians act soon, the Act of Congress might become known as the Wyden-Smith (or the Smith-Wyden, depending on who acts first) Act.

For more information, contact the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (444 N. Capitol St. NW, Suite 544, Washington DC 20001.

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