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  • Janet Fullwood / Bee file, 2006

    Boats await customers at Silver Lake Resort, one of several prime fishing spots off the June Lake Loop in the eastern Sierra. The director of the California Department of Fish and Game argues that a 1937 law has helped hunters and anglers build a strong conservation legacy in California.

  • Charlton H. Bonham is the director of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Viewpoints: 1937 law continues to pay dividends for conservation

Published: Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012 - 1:17 pm

Fall in California is a special time. The slant of light changes, the weather cools and migrating waterfowl are noisily on the move. The coming season is a great time to get outside and enjoy our state's natural resources. It is also an appropriate time to reflect on the ways in which much of California's natural richness has been conserved.

Seventy-five years ago this month, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed one of the most important conservation laws in our history. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, extended and earmarked revenue from the sale of firearms and ammunition used for sport hunting. It directed those funds be collected by the federal government and apportioned to the states for wildlife restoration.

The law, signed Sept. 2, 1937, fundamentally reshaped our nation's wildlife conservation policies by establishing a dedicated and stable funding source for natural resource management.

It was a remarkable achievement – in the midst of desperate economic times, hunters supported this extra cost on their equipment and ammunition to help conserve species and their habitats. The conservation legacy that was created was made possible by sportsmen and women, conservation groups and policymakers who cared deeply about wild things and their future.

Seventy-five years later, support for the law is as strong as ever. No doubt, that is in large part because Pittman-Robertson works. The law now includes sales of handguns and archery equipment, and in 1950, similar federal legislation was passed regarding fishing equipment for sport fisheries.

Among the results of these laws is the simple fact that anyone who has bought a fishing license or purchased ammunition or archery equipment has contributed to the conservation of California's natural resources.

Pittman-Robertson funds pay for 75 percent of eligible state projects. States pay the remainder, usually from hunting license fees. Through this arrangement, states are able to fund research, wildlife restoration projects, land acquisition, wildlife management, hunter education, target range development and archery education.

In California, this money provides for important projects that do not always come with a high profile. They include:

• The operations and maintenance of 285,000 acres of wildlife areas.

• Acquisition of wildlife habitat, including resting and feeding areas for wintering and migrating birds, wetlands for nesting waterfowl and other kinds of habitat.

• Research in a variety of areas, including the translocation of elk, bighorn sheep and other large mammals to historical habitats, disease investigation and the development and implementation of wildlife management plans.

Pittman-Robertson has endowed us with a rich legacy. For example, more than a century ago, Tule elk had declined to just a handful of animals in our great state. But through legislative protections and Pittman-Robertson's funding, Tule elk have rebounded to nearly 4,000 today.

The act also provides money to the states to implement hunter education and recruitment programs to ensure that sportsmen and women are provided hunter safety and training opportunities.

These classes teach new hunters to be responsible stewards of wildlife.

California's land, wildlife and fish are treasures we cannot afford to lose. The foresight and actions of these early conservationists were examples of natural resources leadership, something that this country and the state of California have long held with justified pride. While the contributions of sportsmen and women often go unrecognized, they are a critical piece of our state's efforts to preserve and protect California's natural resources.

And whether we are hunters, anglers, nature photographers, hikers or bird-watchers, that's a pretty good deal for all of us.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Charlton H. Bonham

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