Federal laws basis for wildlife conservation
Back in June I explained how states get federal funding for hunting and fishing programs through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. Federal excise taxes imposed on hunting and fishing gear are returned to states based on each state's land area and the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold.
P-R and D-J tax dollars supplement the fees each state collects for hunting and fishing licenses. But these are just two of many federal laws and policies that benefit wildlife.
A complete review of federal conservation laws is beyond the scope of this column, but I want to mention a few pieces of federal legislation that have been critical to the success of wildlife conservation.
Federal wildlife law began with the Lacey Act in 1900. It curbed market hunting by outlawing the interstate transportation of illegally killed game species. This put the power of the federal government behind the enforcement of state game laws.
The National Park Service Act (1916) established the National Park System. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier, Acadia, the Everglades, and hundreds more owe their existence to the wisdom of pioneer conservationists who saw the need to protect magnificent wild places for future generations.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918) established formal cooperation between the U.S. and Canada. It prohibited hunting of insectivorous migratory birds (most song birds) and regulated the hunting of migratory game birds (waterfowl, for example).
The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (1934) created a funding mechanism to acquire and maintain national wildlife refuges. The funds came from the sale of federal migratory bird hunting stamps -- duck stamps. Though only waterfowl hunters were required to buy these stamps, refuges provide critical habitat for all sorts of wildlife.
The Bald Eagle Protection Act (1940) outlawed killing bald eagles and made it illegal to possess body parts, eggs and nests. In 1962 the act was amended to extend similar protection to golden eagles.
The Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act (1960) declared the policy of Congress to be "that national forests are established and shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes." Further it specified that no specific use could predominate among the others. Theoretically this put fish and wildlife conservation on an equal footing with timber production on national forests.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (1964) ensured that all citizens have access to outdoor recreation resources. Its funding came from user fees, an excise tax on motorboat fuels, and Outer Continental Shelf oil revenues. Funds can be used to acquire land for national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges. The fund is also used to help states acquire and develop lands used for outdoor recreation.
The Wilderness Act (1964) established a National Wilderness Preservation System that protects wild lands in their natural state. It defined wilderness, in part, as areas where, "man himself is a visitor and does not remain."
The Endangered Species Act (1973) authorized the listing and protection of threatened and endangered species. It also provided the authority to acquire land for the conservation of listed species using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As a result, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, ospreys, alligators, and many other species have been protected and made notable comebacks.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) imposed a moratorium on taking or importing marine mammals and their products. Protected species include sea otters, walrus, polar bears, manatees, whales, seals, and sea lions. This act is one reason many whale populations have rebounded from endangered levels.
And the most influential piece of federal wildlife legislation may be one that never even used the term "wildlife." The National Environmental Policy Act (1969) established broad principles that had wildlife at its core. NEPA recognized the profound impact of man's activity on the interrelationships of all components of the natural environment.
Among many other mandates, NEPA requires all federal agencies to prepare detailed environmental impact statements for, "all proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." In such cases, wildlife often wins.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, West Virginia 26033 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.