Wildlife comeback in Illinois

Many folks around here who are older than 50 can remember when it was rare to see a deer in the wild anywhere in Illinois. It was even more rare for a hunter to actually harvest an Illinois deer during hunting season.

All of that has changed now, and the wildlife populations in Illinois, for many game and non-game species, have made an amazing comeback over the last 50 to 60 years. In fact, Illinois has earned a reputation among deer hunters looking for that trophy rack as a place where they can hunt and have a very good chance of bagging that huge buck.

Wild turkeys are another remarkable success story for wildlife managers in Illinois. And who, in 1950, would have thought you could see so many bald eagles majestically soaring above the rivers, forests and fields of the Prairie State? If you have not seen a beautiful white-headed bald eagle soaring effortlessly above the earth, taking inventory of any slight movement in the grass or water beneath him, you have missed one of the most marvelous sights in all of God’s creation.

It is definitely worth your while to find a state or federal wildlife area along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio or Wabash rivers, and invest a day of your life to take in the beauty of the sights you will see there. If you take such a trip, your family will have fun doing something non-electronic, it will be good for your blood pressure, and it will help your frame of mind, too.

It was not just dumb luck that caused the positive trend in Illinois wildlife we have seen in the last 50 years. Much of it was because of hard work and long-term planning by many people who have long since departed. One key factor in this success story is a piece of federal legislation sponsored by a U.S. representative from Virginia and a U.S. senator from Nevada. Their bill was signed into law in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it was called the “Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.” That law has become better known for the two men who sponsored it, Sen. Key Pittman and Rep. Willis Robertson, as the Pittman-Robertson Act.

The concept of this law is simple. An excise tax of about 10 percent is charged on the sale of guns and ammunition. Once collected, this tax is used exclusively to help restore wildlife and hunting areas in any state that applied for a grant.

For a qualified and approved grant application, up to 75 percent of the cost for the project is funded by Pittman-Robertson (P-R) funds, and 25 percent is funded by the state or other non-federal sources. In the 1970s, an amendment to the Pittman-Robertson act was made to include archery equipment with the guns and ammunition that would be subject to the P-R excise tax.

The P-R funds are distributed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to the states in the year after the taxes are collected. Since 1937, hunters, shooters and archery enthusiasts have contributed more than $4.7 billion for distribution throughout the USA as a result of the Pittman-Robertson Act.

These funds have been used, in part, to purchase more than 4 million acres of land to benefit wildlife of all types.

In the next part of this story, we will see how Illinois, in particular, has benefited from these P-R funds.

This article was provided by the Illinois State Rifle Association. For more information about the association, call 635-3198 or visit www.irsa.org.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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