State Wildlife Management: An Overview

The components of state wildlife management vary in detail by state but share some broad similarities.

Agencies

All the states have an agency responsible for wildlife management. Twenty three states have a standalone wildlife agency. Three states have a standalone wildlife and parks agency. Twenty four states have a wildlife agency that is part of a larger natural resources or environmental department.

Most state wildlife agencies were established in the late 1800s or early 1900s and used the word “game” in their names. Over time, most of them replaced “game” with “wildlife” to reflect a broader mission that included species that are not hunted. However, 11 state wildlife agencies still use “game” in their names (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wyoming).

Commissions

In almost every state, there is an appointed volunteer commission or board that either oversees or advises the wildlife agency. For oversight commissions, duties vary by state but include setting policy and budget for the agency, rule-making, and appointing the agency’s director. Commissions range in size from four to 19 seats, with most being in the 7-11 range. Members are usually appointed by the governor, often requiring confirmation by the state senate.

Required qualifications for committee members vary widely by state, ranging from a general requirement that appointees be knowledgeable about wildlife matters, to a requirement that members reside in different regions or congressional districts and/or they not all be of the same political party, to a requirement that they represent different stakeholders or expertises. Many states require that at least some commission seats be reserved for hunters, anglers, trappers, or farmer/ranchers. Some states (e.g. North Dakota, Mississippi) actually prohibit non-consumptive users from serving on their commissions. Even where being a hunter is not required, our research found that at least 75 percent of all available seats on state wildlife commissions are occupied by consumptive users, reflecting the prevailing view among governors and other elected officials that hunters deserve a greater say in wildlife governance than others.

Funding

Funding for state wildlife agencies comes from four main sources: 1) license fees; 2) federal grants; 3) general funds; and 4) other sources. The relative contribution of these sources varies widely by state. Traditionally, the sale of hunting and fishing licenses has been the most important source of revenues for state wildlife agencies, followed by federal grants under the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. For most states these two sources still comprise more than two-thirds of their wildlife agency revenues. Many state wildlife agencies do not receive general funds from their legislature and are considered “enterprise” agencies because they rely on the sale of a product (licenses) for much of their revenue.

Less than half of state wildlife agencies receive general fund appropriations.  Most state wildlife agencies receive at least a small amount of revenue from “other” sources which vary by state. These include a smorgasbord of sources, including but not limited to: wildlife license plate sales, lottery proceeds, speeding ticket fines, income tax checkoffs, real estate transfer taxes, vehicle registration fees, a portion of sales taxes on outdoor equipment, and a portion of general sales taxes. Some refer to this as a “bake sale” approach to funding wildlife conservation.

As the number of hunters and anglers declines relative to the general population, states are continually looking for new ways to fund their wildlife agencies. Securing a dedicated portion of general sales taxes is the holy grail of wildlife funding because of the large amount of revenues it can generate and the difficulty of diverting the money or rescinding the taxes. A few states currently have such a “conservation” tax, including Missouri, Arkansas and Minnesota.