Hunters and fishermen have long been known as conservation pioneers. The modern conservation movement began in the early 1900s when drought and overexploitation from virtually uncontrolled hunting decimated wildlife to the verge of extinction. Individuals and organized sportsmen’s groups demanded more and stricter regulations, and got them.

One hunter in particular stepped up. Once called “Crazy Teddy” for his ideas about wildlife and land protection, Theodore Roosevelt is now highly regarded as the Conservation President. After being elected in 1901, he created the U.S. Forest Service, and established national parks, national forests, bird reservations and game preserves that resulted in more than 230 million acres of public land.

That ethic remained strong in the Roosevelt family and 75 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act — the P-R Act — extending an existing 10 percent tax on ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting, the proceeds distributed to states for wildlife restoration. Since then funds have provided $7.2 billion for wildlife conservation.

Funds are distributed for specific projects on a 3:1 ratio, with states picking up the other 25 percent, derived principally from hunting licenses. The program represents a tremendous boom for wildlife agencies, allowing them to implement projects that wouldn’t have been possible.

More than 6o percent of P-R funding is used to buy, develop, maintain and operate wildlife management areas, forest openings for upland birds, winter rangelands for big game and wetlands essential to waterfowl and wading birds for nesting, feeding, migration stopover and wintering areas.

Funds are used to restore wildlife populations, a prime example the wild turkey. Most of the funding for trap and transfer programs came from P-R funds matched by license sales and money from private conservation groups.

Much the same is true for western elk and mule deer restoration supplemented by The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and waterfowl habitat protection and enhancement supported by the sale of migratory bird stamps and groups like Ducks Unlimited.

Approximately 25 percent of P-R funding is used for surveys and research; biologists can learn how wildlife species interact with their habitat and people. Surveys help them monitor number, age, sex and population trends, which they use to set hunting seasons and bag limits.

P-R funds also helped in the development of tools like rocket nets, tranquilizer guns and radio, and GPS devices.

In the early 1970s, Congress expanded P-R funding sources to include handguns and archery equipment, and authorized states to use up to half the revenues for hunter education and target ranges. Those programs, now mandatory in most states, teach new hunters safe handling of hunting equipment, as well as responsible conduct afield, and has led to a significant decline in hunting-related incidents.

Though they foot the bill, hunters aren’t the only ones who benefit. Millions who enjoy watching or photographing wildlife, camping or picnicking or merely having a piece of public land to tread on are the beneficiaries. Recent surveys estimate some 70 percent, in some areas as much as 95 percent, of the people use areas obtained and protected by P-R funds for non-hunting activities. And the habitat protected by P-R funded projects also benefits non-game wildlife.

Hunters are the first conservationists and remain the most dedicated.

As long as they and programs like P-R remain viable, so will wildlife conservation. Hopefully both will still be around 25 years from now to celebrate another anniversary.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]