For all the grousing I hear about federal and state governments these days, there’s still a silver lining for state fish-and-wildlife budgets. Most states are in terrible financial shape these days. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the primary sources of state fish-and-wildlife funding are protected by law from political pillaging as budget officials seek to fill gaps elsewhere. Here’s how it works…

You and I as sportsmen ultimately pay federal excise taxes on everything from rifles and ammunition to fishing rods and reels to recreational boating fuel. More correctly, the manufacturers pay the taxes and then include them in the purchase price that we pay.

Importantly, those tax revenues are specifically dedicated to fish and wildlife. That is, dedicated by federal law. So that tax money–millions of dollars a year–can’t be diverted to other programs such as highways or agriculture.

Second, those tax monies are distributed to the states each year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Here again, those distributions are specifically dedicated for fish-and-wildlife. Even better, and as a condition of those distributions, each receiving state must agree not to divert state fishing and hunting license revenues to any purpose other than fish and wildlife.

Excise tax monies and sporting-license sales are the two primary revenue sources for all state fish-and-wildlife agencies. By federal law, both are protected no matter how bad a state’s budget scenario happens to be.

Various governors and other state officials have tried over the past few years to dip into those protected funds. Then they have backed off, red-faced at not having checked how things worked in the first place.

So however much you might agree or disagree with how your state’s wildlife agency spends its money, at least be grateful that it has some money to spend in the first place. Without the sorts of protection I’ve described, the sporting-license fees and taxes that you pay would, indeed, by diverted into some highway project–leaving fish, wildlife, and all of us holding the short end of the stick.