In the early 1900s, when many fish and wildlife species were dwindling in numbers or disappearing altogether, the hunting and shooting industries stepped forward to help state fish and wildlife agencies counteract the crisis.

Manufacturers supported the use of excise taxes on equipment and sought legislation to ensure federal funding would be directed to aid agencies in managing and conserving America’s natural resources and providing hunting access.

On September 2, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, now called the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which to this day fosters partnerships between federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, the sporting arms industry, conservation groups and sportsmen and women to benefit wildlife.

Later, anglers and the fishing and boating industries established similar funding strategies through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act) in 1950 and its Wallop-Breaux Boating Trust Fund amendment in 1984.

Through this American System of Conservation Funding, more than $12 billion dollars have been entrusted to agencies for fisheries and wildlife restoration and management; hunter, angler and boater access; as well as for hunter and boater safety education.

In 2012, we proudly observe 75 years of the WSFR program and the success of the partnerships that have made this program the single most successful conservation effort in U.S. history.


Late 1800s/early 1900’s - wildlife conservation was mostly a program of refuge establishment, game breeding, law enforcement, predator control, establishment of seasons and bag limits, and surveys. Conservationists began to realize that more actions were needed to stop continuing losses and conserve wildlife.

1908 - President Theodore Roosevelt hosted a conference to focus the attention of the nation's policy makers on conservation issues. Attending were governors, members of his Cabinet and the Supreme Court, members of Congress, scientists, industrial leaders and conservationists - all called together to focus on the loss of wildlife, forests, and other natural resources caused by the exploitation of what had once been perceived as inexhaustible.

1930 – Aldo Leopold and a distinguished group of wildlife conservationists were asked by the American Game Institute (now Wildlife Management Institute) to draft a policy to guide wildlife conservation. The 1930 American Game Policy laid out a broad vision, acknowledging that existing conservation programs were inadequate to stem the declines in wildlife. It called for a program of restoration implemented by scientifically trained professionals with a stable funding source and declared it was time for wildlife management to “be recognized as a distinct profession and developed accordingly.” Carl Shoemaker was appointed special investigator for the newly created U.S. Senate Special Committee on Conservation of Wildlife Resources.  He would later become the author of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.

1937 - The Wildlife Restoration (WR) program is authorized by the Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson PR.) The Wildlife Restoration Program (WR) provides grant funds to the states, the District of Columbia and insular areas fish and wildlife agencies for projects to restore, conserve, manage, and enhance wild birds and mammals and their habitat. Through the purchases of firearms, ammunitions, and archery equipment the WR Program is a successful user pay, user benefit program.

1950 - The Sport Fish Restoration (SFR) program is authorized by the Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson DJ.) SFR provides grant funds to the states, the District of Columbia and insular areas fish and wildlife agencies for fishery projects, boating access and aquatic education. It was created to restore and better manage America's declining fishery resources and was modeled after the successful Wildlife Restoration program. The purchases of fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels and import duties fund this program.

1954 - Funds from an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition [Internal Revenue Code of 1954, sec. 4161(b)] are appropriated to the Secretary of the Interior and apportioned to States on a formula basis for paying up to 75 percent of the cost approved projects. Project activities include acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, introduction of wildlife into suitable habitat, research into wildlife problems, surveys and inventories of wildlife problems, acquisition and development of access facilities for public use, and hunter education programs, including construction and operation of public target ranges.

1970 - Public Law 91-503, approved October 23, 1970, (84 Stat. 1097) added provisions for the deposit of the 10 percent tax on pistols and revolvers, one-half of which may be used by the States for hunter safety programs. This amendment also provided for development of comprehensive fish and wildlife management plans as an optional means for participating in the program, and changed the maximum limit from $10,000 to one-half percent for Puerto Rico and to one-sixth percent for the Virgin Islands and Guam.

1972 - On October 25, 1972, the Act was further amended by P.L. 92-558 (86 Stat. 1172) to add provisions for the deposit of the 11-percent excise tax on bows, arrows, and their parts and accessories for use in wildlife projects or hunter safety programs.

1973 - The 1930 policy was expanded as the North American Wildlife Policy to deal with the growing conservation challenges:  the continued expansion of the human population, increased resource consumption, recreational use of fish and wildlife, endangered species, habitat management, and multiple-use policies. The updated Policy set the stage for efforts to sustain our hunting heritage, focus on non-game and game species, establish international agreements to support wildlife conservation, provide incentives for private landowners for wildlife habitat management, enhance range management and wetland protection, and expand public outreach and conservation education.

1980 – Congress passes the Forsythe-Chafee Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (“Nongame Act”), modeled after WR and SFR, to expand federal support to restore and conserve nongame vertebrate species. Congress never authorized funding for the program.

1984 - Public Law 98-369 (26 U.S.C. 1 note; 98 Stat. 502), approved July 18, 1984, contained a provision that expanded the tax on arrows to include those used in crossbows. NEED PIC

1984 - Public Law 98-347 (16 U.S.C. 669h-1; 98 Stat. 321), approved July 9, 1984, amended section 8(a) of the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act to make American Samoa eligible for wildlife restoration and hunter safety programs.

1984 - Public Law 98-369, approved July 18, 1984 (26 U.S.C. 9504, 98 Stat. 1012) created the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund comprised of the Sport Fish Restoration Account and the Boating Safety Account. This amendment expanded the items of fishing tackle subject to the 10-percent excise tax and imposed a new 3-percent excise tax on fish finders and electric trolling motors. In addition, it provided for the deposit of receipts from these excise taxes and from the following sources into the Sport Fish Restoration Account: the motorboat fuels tax revenues less amounts deposited into the Boating Safety Account, and the import duties on fishing tackle, yachts and pleasure craft. This Act also directed that the additional funds be equitably allocated between marine and sport fish. The law also directed States to use up to 10 percent of funds for boating access facilities and aquatic resources education programs.

1984 - Public Law 98-369 also amended the Sport Fish Restoration Act to require the States to equitably allocate these new funds between marine and fresh water projects and to allocate 10 percent of apportionments to boating facilities. Payments for multi-year projects were authorized; the administrative expense deduction was reduced from 8 percent to 6 percent; up to 10 percent was authorized for aquatic resources education; and the District of Columbia was qualified for 1/3 of 1 percent. The effective date of these amendments was October 1, 1984, and they are commonly called the Wallop-Breaux amendments.

1985 – The Fish and Wildlife Service publishes a report identifying outdoor products that could be taxed to provide funding for the Nongame Act. The Nongame Act failed reauthorization.

1987 – 50th Anniversary of WR and publication of the book, “Restoring America’s Wildlife 1937-1987: The First 50 Years of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration (Pittman-Robertson) Act.

1988 - Public Law 100-448, approved September 28, 1988 (102 Stat. 1836) increased the amount authorized to be appropriated from the motor boat fuels tax receipts into the Boating Safety Account from $45 million to $60 million for Fiscal Years 1989 and 1990, then to $70 million for Fiscal Years 1991, 1992, and 1993. It also amended the Sport Fish Restoration Act to require States to equitably allocate all amounts apportioned between marine and freshwater projects, with no State to receive less than the amount apportioned in 1988.

1989 - Public Law 101-233 (103 Stat. 1968), approved December 13, 1989, amended the Sport Fish Restoration Act to require the Secretary of Treasury to invest funds held in interest-bearing obligations. Provides that that interest be used to fund the North American Wetlands Conservation Act through fiscal year 2005, and then to be available for the wildlife restoration fund beginning fiscal year 2006.

1991 – The Fish and Wildlife Diversity Initiative is launched by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). Legislation titled the Fish and Wildlife Diversity Funding Act is drafted and mirrored WR and SFR providing for excise taxes on outdoor products and conservation programs for all vertebrates and invertebrates. This effort would later be renamed the Teaming With Wildlife Initiative (TWW).

2000 - The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act of 2000 amends WR and SFR to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to develop and implement a Multistate Conservation Grant Program, a Firearm and Bow Hunter Education and Safety Program and provides funding for four fisheries commissions and the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council.

2000 - Congress authorizes the State Wildlife Grants Program and passes the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Act. Both programs were funded in part through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Historic WR and SFR projects by State (XLS)

Visit the online A. Willis Robertson Library

Visit the USFWS-WSFR site for more information: http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/