In the early 1900s, the total number of elk left roaming the United States was estimated to be 40,000.
Today those of us who live in Colorado can proudly say that we have more, a lot more, than 40,000 living within our state alone.
As a matter of fact, it is estimated that there are 1.2 million elk roaming the country today.
In 1939, it was estimated that there were about 5,000 deer left in the state of Mississippi. Hunter-funded trap-and-transfer programs helped boost that number to 50,000 in the 1950s. Now it is estimated there are 1.2 million deer in Mississippi alone, and 30 million whitetail deer in the country. Seven hundred fifty million pounds of “game” meat are annually consumed by Americans today. That total is equal to about 2 million slaughtered cattle.
We have a couple of legislators to thank for this amazing spike in wildlife numbers.
This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Pittman-Robertson Act named for its sponsors, Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson. This Federal Aid In Wildlife Restoration Act was signed into law on Sept. 2, 1937 by then President Franklin Roosevelt. It went into effect the following year on July 1.
The Pittman Robertson Act is a unique piece of legislation as it called for an excise tax that provides funds for each state to manage animals and their habitat.
It is unique in that it is paid by sportsman on goods like guns and ammunition. In the 1970s amendments to Pittman Robertson created a 10 percent tax on handguns and their ammunition and accessories, as well as an 11 percent tax on archery equipment.
It also mandated that half the new funds from those taxes be used to educate and train hunters through the creation and maintenance of state-operated hunter safety programs. I am proud to say that I am one of the first hunter safety instructors in the country, having been trained more than 35 years ago.
Species that have rebounded from near extinction because of Pittman Robertson are the white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and the wood duck.
Pittman Robertson is also unique because of the way the funds are collected and distributed. For example, your income taxes are sent to the United States Treasury. Funds collected by the Pittman Robertson excise tax are kept separate and given to the Secretary of the Interior to distribute to the individual states as determined by need.
The 50th Secretary of the Interior, confirmed by a unanimous vote of the United States Senate on Jan. 20, 2009, is fifth generation Coloradan Ken Salazar.
Salazar determines how much money each state is going to receive according to a formula that takes into consideration the area of the state and the number of licensed hunters who buy licenses to hunt in that state.
States must fulfill certain requirements to use the money apportioned to them by Pittman Robertson. Plans for what to do with the money must be submitted to and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Acceptable options include research, surveys, management of wildlife and/or habitat and acquisition or lease of land, among other things.
The 25 percent of the cost that the state must pay generally comes from its hunting license sales. If, for whatever reason, any of the federal money does not get spent, after two years that money is then reallocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Pittman Robertson has been so successful that in the 1950s a similar act was written for fish; the Dingell-Johnson Act or the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act.
You do not have to be a hunter or a fisherman to appreciate what folks like Pittman, Robertson, Dingell and Johnson have done for all of us.
The next time you catch a glimpse of an elk, moose or deer or happen to share a rainbow trout with your angling neighbor, just pause for a moment and give thanks for those who have gone before us.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.