The Fish & Wildlife Business Summit recently concluded its 2015 meeting hosted by O.F. Mossberg & Sons in Middletown, Connecticut. This annual gathering of state, federal, industry, and NGO leaders focuses on strengthening relationships to better implement the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) program. The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), in its ongoing commitment to support user-based conservation funding, facilitated the eighth annual meeting of the group. The summit is the result of a decade-long effort by state fish and wildlife leaders and sporting industry leaders to improve communication among the partners of the WSFR program.
“The fuel that allows us to implement the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the WSFR program,” commented Jon Gassett, WMI’s industry liaison and southeast region representative who coordinated the meeting. “It is vital that the industries that pay these taxes support this model, and that the agencies that receive the funds recognize the roles that those industries play.”
Through various formats, including presentations, facilitated discussion, and breakout groups, the Summit attendees narrowed the focus of their efforts for the coming year. Three focal points warranted immediate attention:
1. Marketing and Brand Awareness
The ability for states to use excise tax funding for “Public Relations” is specifically precluded in the statutory language of the Acts. As originally designed, this exclusion was likely appropriate since there were numerous fish and wildlife restoration needs that required significant and dedicated funding. However, the concurrent shift from scarcity to abundance of most game species coupled with the decline in hunter and angler numbers necessitates the need for a concerted effort to stabilize public support for angling, boating, hunting, and recreational shooting by raising the awareness of how conservation is funded in our country. The Summit attendees agreed to focus on corrective language to allow states to collectively and individually dedicate part of their excise tax allocations to this marketing and brand awareness effort.
2. Maintain the integrity of the WSFR Program through fairness of application of the tax and adequate administrative support.
The Summit attendees continued to prioritize the need to assure the integrity of the WSFR program by ensuring that the laws are applied fairly and appropriately. Administrative support for the program, training and coordination with the Internal Revenue Service, and monitoring and evaluating legislative changes to the laws will be the primary focus of this aspect.
3. Promote and facilitate an organic (state level) roll out of industry/state agency partnerships.
Over the past 10 years, vast improvement has been made in building and strengthening relationships between state agencies and industry at the national level. At the most recent meeting, the Summit attendees agreed to prioritize stepping down this effort to the state and local levels. Developing relationships between individual state agency leadership and the excise tax paying industries in their states will undoubtedly pay benefits through mutual support on issues of importance to both entities.
The partnerships between industry, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, and the hunting, angling, and boating public dates back to 1937 (wildlife) and 1950 (fisheries). Subsequent amendments to both laws in the 1970’s and 80’s brought motorboat fuel tax (Wallop-Breaux Amendment), archery equipment, pistols, and pistol ammunition into the fold. While the dollars generated through these excise taxes have been a boon to conservation over the last 75 years, adjustments and course corrections to the laws to make them more applicable for today’s conservation needs will only make the application of funding more effective and efficient. (Jonathan Gassett)