Before long, nature lovers could be paying federal taxes on recreational items such as bird feeders and mountain tents. The tax, yet to be approved by Congress, is part of a new effort by states and wildlife conservation groups to get funding to manage fish and wildlife that is not hunted.
These groups complain that the bulk of fish and wildlife funds have been used for years to enhance game populations for hunters and sport fishermen, while populations of many nongame species have been declining.
Total revenue from state fish and wildlife agencies was $602.8 million this year, according to the Wildlife Conservation Fund of America. But only about 12 percent of the funds were directed specifically toward the nongame species.
The wild birds, fish, and animals that are not hunted represent 83 percent of all such species in the United States by some estimates.
The new Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, signed by President Carter Sept. 29, begins to equalize funding for game and nongame species management.
The law authorizes $20 million over four years for nongame conservation, starting in October 1981.
It requires the US Fish and Wildlife Service to report by March 1983 on additional ways of funding, including the excise tax. Government sources say the tax could be in effect by 1986.
"The people who derive the benefits from the programs should bear the bulk of maintaining them," says Michael E. Berger of the National Wildlife Federation.
Lonnie Williamson, secretary of the Wildlife Management Institute, says most conservationists agree that the most viable funding would come through excise taxes on such things as backpacks, birdseed, and certain cameras and binoculars.