This year marks the 75th anniversary of the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act, otherwise known as the Wildlife Restoration Act. All the abundant wildlife we enjoy today would not be here but for this congressional act passed in 1937.
Senator A. Willis Robertson of Virginia, along with other leaders in the early stages of America’s great conservation movement, had the foresight and vision to create a funding mechanism that has been at the heart of Alabama’s and every other state’s programs to bring back wildlife populations. In the 1920s and early ‘30s, most game species were nearly extinct. There were few hunting laws or regulations, and year-round, mostly unregulated hunting had taken its toll. Sharecropper cabins dotted the landscape every 40 acres or so and, to the starving inhabitants, a deer taken by torchlight in February was meat for the table. Six or eight young turkeys killed with one shot from a blind at the end of a corn-filled trench in June were that many frying-size birds for the table.
The impact of this year-round, practically unregulated and widely distributed wanton slaughter combined with habitat loss and market hunting to meet demands for meat, fur and feathers led to virtual decimation of many species.
Robertson’s plan, with the support of prominent hunters, and the arms and ammunition industry, was to dedicate an 11 percent excise tax on guns and ammo, collected federally at the manufacturers’ level, to wildlife management. This "new money" was apportioned to the states to foster the emerging work of wildlife management on a 3:1 matching basis. Three federal dollars were made available to match each dollar of state hunting license revenue for work on approved wildlife restoration projects.
Wildlife biology was an emerging profession, and little scientific research or knowledge related to wildlife existed. The challenges were great. Habitat work was needed. States had to adopt and enforce effective hunting laws and regulations. Massive educational campaigns were necessary to shift public sentiment from wanton waste to wise use.
The first hunting laws in Alabama had been passed by Senator John Wallace from Huntsville. In the next session of the legislature, 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties were exempted by local legislation, leaving only Wallace’s home county of Madison affected. But Wallace and others did not give up easily, and slowly public sentiment shifted toward conservation of natural resources. Through the cooperative efforts of hunters, landowners and wildlife professionals (biologists and conservation enforcement officers alike) huntable populations of deer, turkey and other wildlife were restored to the landscape.
This is a huge conservation success story of which we can all be very proud. Eleven percent of every dollar spent for hunting arms or ammunition has been put to good use by the states in restoring and sustaining the resource base supporting millions of man-days of recreational hunting and billions of dollars of related economic impact every year.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.