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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

For the sportsman, happiness is the month of August in the rearview mirror. Hints of fall are just around the corner. Flights of dove are a welcome sight over stock tanks and sunflowers. Teal have come buzzing in to the state’s playas and ponds. Fishing coastal flats takes on greater appeal. Work weekends at the deer lease are eagerly planned. And, trips to the sporting goods stores for new licenses and gear pick up in frequency and fervor.

For the outdoor enthusiast who’s not a hunter or angler, the hustle and bustle of a sportsman’s September may seem like a distant abstraction. It is not. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it should not. Let me explain.

Seventy-five years ago, a persistent band of prominent sportsmen-conservationists pressed Congress into doing something to address the country’s declining wildlife stocks. Their premise, at least in today’s day and time, seemed like a non-starter: Convince sportsmen, manufacturers and retailers that it was in their best interest to levy a new excise tax on the sale of all sporting arms, handguns, shells and related outdoor goods.

The proceeds would be used to fund wildlife research, restoration and enhancement programs. Funds would be apportioned to all the states in proportion to their respective numbers of hunters. The monies would come in the form of matching grants to the states, with the states being responsible for a 25 percent share. State fish and game agencies, as the lawful stewards and fiduciaries of the public’s resources, would be responsible for implementing effective conservation programs in concert with university, nonprofit and private landowner partners.

It was a plan that made good legislative sense to those who wanted to see wildlife populations rebound and ultimately flourish. Thankfully, maybe even miraculously, it passed. A number of years later, so, too, did a companion bill to support freshwater and saltwater fisheries conservation. From that vision and persistence of a formidable few sportsmen, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program was born.

This year, we herald the program’s 75th anniversary, a milestone of no small proportion for our beloved home ground and the wild things that reside here. Since the program’s inception, more than $650 million has been invested for fish and wildlife programs in Texas. The return on that investment would make any investor proud.

Thanks in part to Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration funding, Texas has a network of 49 wildlife management areas that serve as research, demonstration, educational and public hunting resources. Over a million and a half acres of public and private land are made available to sportsmen each year to pursue their favorite quarry. Eight inland and coastal fish hatcheries produce around 40 million fingerlings a year to stock in Texas rivers, lakes, bays and estuaries. Research on everything from redfish and redheads to turkey and trout has come about because of the program’s sustained funding.

In plain terms, we have more deer, doves and ducks than any other state. Our coastal and inland waters are teeming with redfish, trout, flounder, bass and catfish. An approximately $16 billion outdoor recreation industry is built around our vibrant fish and wildlife populations. More than 1 million hunters, 2.5 million anglers and 7 million nonconsumptive outdoor users benefit annually in the fruits of these investments.

As the slogan for the 75th anniversary of the act aptly suggests, “It’s your nature.” And it is indeed yours. Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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