Federal wildlife & fisheries funding expected

Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting and other gear pay  for fisheries and wildlife programs in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting and other gear pay for fisheries and wildlife programs in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan is slated to receive more than $37.5 million in federal funding for fisheries, wildlife and hunter education programs in 2015 – another high-mark year but that could change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced its intent to distribute $224 million to Midwestern states, a portion of the $1.1 billion being allocated to all 50 states and U.S Territories from its Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program. The money comes from excise taxes that hunters and anglers pay when purchasing certain gear, import duties paid on boats, and a portion of the gasoline tax attributed to small boats and engines.

Michigan is to get more than in 2014 when it received $35.2 million. This year, roughly $26.6 million will go to wildlife restoration efforts within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources while just over $11 million goes to fisheries restoration.

“Robust guns and ammo sales over the last number of years resulted in a lot of growth in the wildlife restoration program,” said Jim Hodgson, chief of the Wildlife and Sport Fishing Restoration Program for the Midwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Fisheries funds have gone up and down with the economy. Seventy percent of that comes from the marine fuel tax. The big driver is the bigger boats that use a lot of fuel.  It hasn’t had the same growth, and we expect it will be a little lower the next year or two.

What gets returned to states every year is based on how many hunting or fishing licenses are sold plus the percentage of public land or water available. Christine Hanaburgh, federal aid coordinator for the Michigan DNR wildlife division, expects the wildlife side will now flatten out after several years of increases.

“We’ve had a good idea of what to expect,” Hanaburgh said. “This year is still a high point, but we can see where the trend is going. We expect (the wildlife portion) to start declining because it is tied to gun sales.”

Gun and ammunition sales boomed for several years, driven by fears that the Obama administration would further restrict them or take them away. That didn’t prove to be the case and the buying frenzy has leveled off.

Michigan ranks 5th out of 55 states and territories for wildlife restoration dollars received, and 7th out of 56 for sportfish restoration funds, according to Hodgson. It ranks as high as it does because so many licenses are sold and because the state has an abundance of public land and water.

Wildlife restoration funds also go to state hunter education efforts. Of the $26.5 million expected for wildlife efforts, $4.4 million will to hunter education programs in Michigan. The DNR will use the federal wildlife money for habitat work and game area improvements.  Fisheries restoration funds will be spent on hatcheries and fish production along with research assessments of Great Lakes and inland fisheries.

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© 2015 Howard Meyerson

Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.

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