by Corky Pugh
With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the Pittman-
Robertson Act, now is a good time to take a look at
some of the things that have made this hunter-funded
wildlife restoration program so effective. This landmark
program, enacted by congress in 1937, has provided
millions of dollars to the states for work aimed at
enhancing wildlife populations and habitats. Funding is
derived from federal excise taxes on firearms and
ammunition, paid at the manufacturers’ level. Money for
approved projects is apportioned to each state annually
based essentially on the number of licensed hunters in
the state. The projects and work activities are funded on
a 3 to 1 basis, providing 3 federal dollars for each state
hunting license dollar.

In this era of dire economic times for state governments
across the country, elected officials face daunting
challenges in finding ways to fund essential
governmental services. Some are tempted to dip into
any fund that carries a positive balance in order to find
money. A few look at the Game and Fish Fund with
dollar signs in their eyes. Not only is this short-sighted in
terms of adversely affecting the state’s ability to sustain
wildlife and fisheries resources that provide the base
upon which hunting and fishing and the related huge
economic engine depend, but it is illegal.

Thankfully, our money, as hunters and anglers, is
protected from such raids by both a provision of the
Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) and a provision of the
Alabama Constitution.

Carl Shoemaker, an attorney and journalist, is referred
to by some as the “father” of the P-R program.
Shoemaker began his career as an attorney in Ohio,
later tiring of the profession and moving to Oregon and
becoming owner and publisher of the Roseburg Evening
News. His interest in conservation matters eventually led
to his appointment as head of the Oregon Fish and
Game Commission. Shoemaker frequently travelled to
Washington, D.C. on state business, and learned his
way around. In 1930, he was appointed special
investigator for the newly-created U.S. Senate Special
Committee on Conservation of Wildlife Resources.

Shoemaker wrote the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration
bill, and did the necessary work in Washington to secure
legislative sponsors. Shoemaker called Congressman A.
Willis Robertson of Virginia and invited him to lunch in
the Senate Dining Room. Robertson was chair of the
House Select Committee on Conservation of Wildlife
Resources. Before being elected to Congress,
Robertson had headed the Virginia Game and Inland
Fisheries Commission.

Shoemaker and Robertson met for lunch, and
Shoemaker handed Robertson a copy of the bill to read.
Robertson read the bill and asked Shoemaker for a
pencil. He inserted a short clause, and said, “With this
amendment I have inserted I will gladly introduce the bill
in the House.”

The words Robertson inserted made the bill foolproof,
prohibiting the states from tampering with or diverting
their own hunting license dollars and receiving the
federal matching funds provided by the bill. What he
wrote following the enacting clause itself, read, “…and
which shall include a prohibition against the diversion of
license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than
the administration of said State fish and game
department…”

Robertson’s experience on the Virginia Game and Inland
Fisheries Commission had taught him that state
legislatures, in that era, were not above taking hunting
and fishing license receipts from state game and fish
agencies and using them for other purposes. This was a
common occurrence in those days, but Robertson put a
stop to it with 29 penciled-in words. Those simple,
straightforward words have meant many millions of
dollars for wildlife conservation work over the past ¾
century.

In order to qualify for funding under the Act, states were
required to pass legislation “assenting” to the provisions
of Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration, specifically
Robertson’s 29 words. Within 12 months of the passage
of the Act, 43 of the 48 states had passed the required
“assent legislation”, prohibiting the use of hunting
license revenue for any purpose other than to operate
the wildlife agency. In time, the remaining states passed
the required legislation, with all states then becoming
eligible to receive 3-to-1 matching funds for wildlife work.
In the late 1960’s the Alabama Senate raided the Game
and Fish Fund, attempting to divert hunting and fishing
license moneys to other purposes. In a groundswell of
public outrage from hunters, fishermen, landowners, and
people in general who recognized the importance of the
issue, a Constitutional Amendment was adopted by an
overwhelming margin. Amendment 272 of the Alabama
Constitution makes it very clear that our hunting and
fishing license moneys can only be spent for the
purposes of managing and protecting fish and wildlife
resources.

In these challenging economic times, we should all be
both thankful and ever-vigilant. We should be thankful
that the program of state government that provides the
resource base upon which hunting and fishing depend
stands on its own bottom financially and is protected
from political tinkering. We should be ever-vigilant in
order to assure that things stay this way. To do anything
less invites trouble for the incredibly wonderful hunting
and fishing opportunities in Alabama and for the
resultant benefits economically and societally.

The Hunting Heritage Foundation is an Alabama non-profit organization established in 2011.  To see what
HHF stands for go to the website at  huntingheritagefoundation.com.  You can write to us at P. O. Box
242064, Montgomery, AL  36124, or corkypugh@mindspring.com.
The Record-Journal Online
Our Outdoor Heritage
Robertson’s 29 Words
Photo by Mitchell Marks
Corky Pugh