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CASH Courier > 1996-1997 Fall / Winter Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from 1996-1997 Fall / Winter Issue

TO ALL NATURE PROTECTORS, OUTDOORS RECREATIONISTS, ENVIRONMENTALISTS, AND BUSINESS, We Must Kill the Proposed Tax Called “Teaming with Wildlife”

 By John Eberhart

Abbreviation Table:

P-R Pittman-Robertson tax on lethal weapons and ammunition

FWS U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior

DNR Georgia Department of Natural Resources

WRD Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia DNR

WMA Wildlife Management Area – public land controlled by a state game department as a shooting gallery for hunters

TWW Teaming with Wildlife, or the Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative –

WDI proposed tax scheme

Thanks to you, wild, free animals are gradually winning the war being waged against them. In a nationwide AP poll, 51% of the respondents indicated that sports hunting is always wrong. In a Fish and Wildlife Service survey, 62% said there were “A Lot” of nimrods violating hunting laws. An outdoors columnist wondered, “What if the general public knew that some hunters shoot pet dogs?” Panicked, state game agencies (FWS and their political constituency of hunters and trappers) are rounding up the wagons.

The director of Georgia’s game agency, the WRD within the DNR wrote, “The child you take hunting today may save hunting for tomorrow.” “Hunters have declined as a percentage of the population by 25 percent over the last 15 years,” the WRD says. “We’re exploring every way we can to salvage hunting.”

Here is their vehicle to achieve their goal – “Teaming with Wildlife” and the “Fish and Wildlife Diversity Funding Initiative” are two of the plan’s names. State game agencies want Congress to bail them out of their financial problems by taxing everybody who takes pictures, watches birds, hikes, bikes, reads, climbs, paddles and camps. The “Wildlife Conservation Enhancement Act of 1996” is the title of a bill drafted to make it happen. The IRS would collect an excise tax of up to 5% on such goods as film, cameras and lenses; coolers; sunglasses; bird houses, feeders and seed; bicycles; shorts, jackets and hiking boots; backpacks; field guides and nature books; Scout supplies; binoculars; sleeping bags and tents; compasses; canoes, kayaks and paddles; lanterns, fuel and cookware; climbing gear; all-terrain vehicles and more. The FWS Federal Aid Division would receive the revenue and parcel out the money as grants to fund 75% of wildlife-related projects in the state game departments (the state treasuries would match these with 25% of the cost), ostensibly for projects to “manage” nongame (the wild species not legally hunted, fished, or trapped) and for wildlife “education.” That means that an extra $350 million per year would surge into state game agencies and Federal Aid, the bureaucracies that have caused the present wildlife mess.

Understandably, outdoor-products companies resist the tax. Congress probably would not pass it with them opposed. That’s why there’s a quiet campaign to accumulate momentum for TWW. Promoters allege they have signed up 1,000 groups in support. Hunters are being urged to write company CEOs, pushing them to accept the tax. Hunters in Georgia alone are claimed to have sent 1,000 letters to companies such as Kodak, L.L.Bean, Coleman, Nixon, Pentax, Johnson Camping, and The Nature Company.

Wildlife exploiters are demanding that the majority of people be taxed, but as with all hucksters, they don’t state the demand so plainly. TWW is like a hook or a trap, and to succeed, a hook or a trap has to be obscured. It needs a decoy, muddy water, or bait. TWW’s bait is that the suggestion of better care for nongame species, especially endangered species and their habitat needs, since public interest in these species has never been greater.

Some of the unwary, seeing only the indistinct, dangling bait, will bite down on it. Our duty to wild animals is to see through the scheme instead, and sink TWW.

“The chief causes of extinction are hunting and destruction of habitat,” began the Senate Commerce Subcommittee’s report on the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Some TWW pushers have tried to undercut the ESA. Some unsuccessfully fought passage of the ESA’s forerunner, the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act that prohibits Americas from killing seals, sea otters, dolphins and whales.

As for depleted species inland, the best way to preserve them is to leave them alone on big tracts of suitable, undisturbed, unpolluted land and with fresh water, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality stated in its Eleventh Annual Report. However, with few exceptions, state game departments, as they have been organized for 58 years, haven’t done that. Leaving life alone doesn’t make them money. Logging and selling licenses to hunt makes money. (Many people believe that deer need big woods for living places. Such forests do harbor deer, but not as densely as hunters want. It is in logging’s weedy, broken aftermath that food supplies for deer, and consequently deer numbers, explode.)

The agencies’ structure must change FIRST before they will represent all the people proportionately, before decision-making can become an open, public process. LESS MONEY, DOWNSIZING, and PRESSURE will change the structure. For example, WRD has dropped its one full-time furbearer biologist position now that 99.996% of Georgians don’t buy trapping licenses. Shrinking dollars work. In many states, ballot initiatives aren’t available. Appointees and administrative careerists can’t be thrown out at the next election. Pro-wildlife bills in state legislatures are referred to hunter-run game committees for burial.

TWW is a scam. Who would profit? A nongame front would hide a backdoor hunting-land frenzy.

“One thing we must make crystal clear,” the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus wrote in a letter, “hunting and fishing must be retained as management and conservation tools on any public lands that might be acquired through the use of these funds, whether the lands were purchased, leased, or otherwise came under public control. This would also include any lands controlled by groups that secured grants from this fund for conservation practices.

Look out for lies and canards in this debate.

TWW would reinforce – and indeed it is patterned after – the most nature-destroying of U.S. laws, the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (16 U.S.C. 669-6691, 50 CFR Part 80), commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R). Since P-R was enacted, it has collected over 1.7 billion dollars of federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows, and states have matched this with $600 million. FWS Federal Aid, like the state agencies, is hunters at the top and hunters at the bottom. Federal Aid runs P-R; and it would administer TWW also. To understand how P-R, Federal Aid and state agencies work in tandem is to know one reason why TWW must be defeated. Wrecking habitats for one set of wildlife (nongame, esp. late succession and forest-interior species) in order to manipulate other animals (game, such as deer) into overpopulation for hunters is what state agencies and Federal aid do. Fragmentation of forests into patches is chiefly why 90 Georgia bird species’ populations are declining; and some are collapsing. More bird species, and more individual birds, live in a forest as it ages. Much nongame cannot live where old, extensive woods have been disturbed for game and timber production.

Agencies like WRD could get out of the deer-growing business, but that would mean less income. DNR game managers have described Wildlife Management Areas as “deer factories pumping animals out into the county.” Georgia’s deer herd quadrupled from 1974 to 1988. Congratulating the panel that oversees WRD and all of the natural resources department, the DNR magazine wrote, “major accomplishments for the [DNR] Board [since 1972] include…the growth of the deer herd, which has provided for liberalization of deer quotas and bag limits.” A P-R report echoed, “Great progress has been made in the state WMA system to increase deer harvest and hunters [from 1977 to 1985]…[P]resent management…[results] in high deer populations, a situation that is often necessary for high hunter satisfaction.” Farmers have complained to their representatives of deer damage to crops in such numbers that agriculture interests have worked on legislation to take control of wildlife from [WRD] and put it in the hands of elected officials.

In California, the Little Hoover commission examined 361 boards and panels embedded in that state’s government. They concluded that the boards “operate to a large degree autonomously and outside the normal checks and balances of representative government…The lack of control may cost the state not only dollars, but also wasted resources, duplicated efforts, and the adoption of policies that may run counter to the general public’s interest…There’s no coordinated means of reviewing and providing the oversight necessary to ensure they are functioning as intended”

Recently, three TWW backers (Georgia governor Zell Miller, his WRD, and FWS Federal Aid) added 80,000 acres to a state killing-field system already 10 times the size of state parks. P-R project W-36, entitled “State Wildlife Development,” is used to control about 70 Wildlife Management Areas in Georgia.

In the following scenario, the land grab has been generalized to illustrate one way in which TWW would be used: with tax revenues from a state’s 93-98% nonhunter majority and exploiting the public’s wishes for nongame, endangered species and their habitats, a wildlife agency would acquire land allegedly to “protect” it. The department would then add the property to an existing P-R project, or it would apply to Federal Aid for a POR project grant, in any dollar amount, for the site - and would receive the money. The tract would then become public hunting land (a Wildlife Management Area) and perhaps a de facto state government tree farm also. Promises that this would happen are empty and cannot be enforced. Hunting would dominate other land use. Activities such as old-growth preservation and designation as a park or a wilderness would be forbidden. A P-R rule requires this. Hikers, birders, campers, mountain bikers, canoeists, and horseback riders, and other general taxpayers would be confined in the use of their land, yet clear-cutting, snaring predators, burning, disking the soil and spraying herbicides could never be limited; these are game management practices done for hunters.

Let’s look a P-R, a state agency, and FWS Federal Aid in action. Officials persuaded Georgians to buy the fourth largest of the state’s barrier islands, Sapelo Island, to “protect” it. In reality, citizens got a place where wild animals are produced to be killed. Realizing this too late, citizens firmly requested a change in how the land was to be used, but because of a P-R rule, they found themselves at a dead-end.

In 1968, the State of Georgia purchased the northern two-thirds of 11-mile-long Sapelo (about 10,000 acres) from tobacconist R.J. Reynolds’ widow. The seller’s attorneys negotiated for 18 months, insisting that the land be left in its native condition. Sadly however, P-R funds were combined with general state revenue in the sale. The property’s annual operating budget continues to contain P-R money, for Sapelo’s north end is a Wildlife Management Area, one unit within P=R project W-36. WRD’s predecessor, the State Game and Fish Commission, arranged hunts immediately upon takeover. In 1970, it stocked wild turkey eggs for hatching on Sapelo. When raccoons ate the eggs, what was management’s response? Strychnine-injected eggs.

Last season, deer were living at Sapelo at a density of 50 per square mile; the hunter success rate was 76 percent. WRD receives $200,000 per year from the state treasury and P-R to burn a third of the acres and to deforest Sapelo in order to grow deer. WRD records show that in 11 years, it removed a woodpile 4’ high by 4’ wide by 78 miles long! That’s 79 million board feet, or 141,400 tons of trees. There was a public outcry when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the Sapelo timber story on the front page of a 1992 Sunday edition. A Journal editor wrote:

“Imagine you owned a coastal island and you were restricted from visiting it, but others were allowed on it. You’d be furious. Well, you do own an island and you are discouraged from venturing to it, though an exclusive group of people enjoys its natural beauty…Sapelo is public property, bought and maintained by taxpayers. Care to explore it? Sorry, Sapelo is restricted, controlled almost as if it were a military base…If [WRD] wants to prove it is managing Sapelo in the public interest, we the owners, should get to see the results of the splendid job it is doing. After all, [WRD] doesn’t have anything to hide, does it?”

Sapelo timber profits do not go state or federal treasuries. Pursuant to a P-R rule, the proceeds flow back into P-R project W-36 to pay for game management around the state. Georgians taxed to pay for destruction have only one way to stop the chainsaws: to purchase a similar island (impossible for several reasons) and surrender it to FWS Federal Aid! This dead end, the rigid P-R rule of in-kind replacement of lands “has been applied often and is rigorously supported by wildlife professionals.”

Nationally from the 1975 – 1985, game managers in the states logged, torched, bulldozed, tilled, drained, flooded, and poisoned an area the size of Indiana. If you express your environmental concerns to the Secretary of the Interior, you would probably receive a blanket statement to the effect that there was “no significant environmental impact.”

In 1937, the forester who invented the pseudoscience of game management worried that his disciples would ignore nongame as they lavished attention on species with what he called “gunpowder value.” That’s what has happened. This is not to say that no animal has ever derived any benefit, but rather that nongame funding has been a trickle. Taking all wildlife programs together, only 3 cents of every dollar are spent for the 97% of wild species not used for hunting, fishing and trapping. P-R contributes nothing for wildlife law enforcement. Only about 14% of P-R funds have been spent to buy land.

Is it love of nongame – or of money – that game departments are displaying as they push TWW? TWW is not needed if the real interest is nongame. P-R could have been used for nongame since 1937. The P-R law says it is for “wild birds and mammals,” not “game birds and mammals.” State game agencies and FWS Federal Aid have shown where their hearts are. They have had 58 years and $2.3+ billion with which to demonstrate how much they care for nongame.

Would you please add your group’s name to the coalition opposing TWW? Georgia Earth Alliance, the American Canoe Association, the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, Adirondack Mountain Club, Alaska Wildlife Alliance and more than 0 other animal protection, river and wilderness-oriented environmental organizations are asking for your help. Tell photo developers, mail order companies, and outdoor-goods distributors about the tax. Encourage additional products manufacturers and sellers to stand up for our animals and the environment by fighting TWW. Politely, firmly tell these companies that they and you already “pay our share” to support wildlife and public land through general taxes, that TWW would be an unnecessary and environmentally destructive subsidy to trappers, hunters, and bureaucrats who plunder everyone’s public assets, that you are their customer or a prospect considering purchasing their goods (if you are); and that you would NOT buy products that bear the tax. The Supreme Court held in 1842 that wildlife belongs to all the people. No one owns wild animals and public land more than you do. What sort of future do you propose to them? You weren’t invited to frame TWW; is it the plan you would envision?

Would you please add your group’s name to the coalition opposing TWW?

Please contact David Jenkins, American Canoe Association, (703) 451-0141; (703) 451-2245 (fax); ACADAVEJ@AOL.COM (email). Read about the excise tax at www.aca-paddler.org or dash off a postcard to ACA, 7432 Alban Station Blvd # b 226, Springfield VA 22150-2311.

John Eberhart of Georgia Earth Alliance welcomes your suggestions, comments and questions at (770) 416-4500; GEA7@PRODIGY.COM; or at GEA, PO Box 1231, Fayetteville, GA 30214-6231.

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