Habitat & Conservation  |  11/30/2016

Stamp Collection: Big Money for Conservation

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the same thing easily could be said for funding the conservation of upland habitat throughout the United States. The funding mix that results in grasslands and wetlands on the ground is complex, with money coming from a huge web of federal, state and other sources. But in a number of states, special stamps and/or licenses – whether they’re called Pheasant Stamps, Habitat Stamps, or something else altogether – also produce vital streams of revenue dedicated in most instances to upland habitat.
“Certainly, the states that have these special licenses and stamps consider them critical to their pheasant-management programs,” said Dr. Scott Taylor, coordinator of the National Wild Pheasant Conservation Plan. “Each state has a different story on how their particular license and stamp system evolved, but in general, all those special licenses and stamps for the states that have them are revenues outside of their normal license fees.”
Some states have had stamp programs in place for decades. Minnesota, for example, has had a Pheasant Stamp since 1983 (enactment of which was Pheasants Forever’s first organizational goal). Connecticut, on the other hand, implemented on July 1, 2016 a Resident Game Bird Conservation Stamp, which created a broader funding base and replaced its Pheasant and Turkey stamps.

Here’s a look at how many of the nation’s pheasant states use stamps and/or licenses as special revenue streams to accomplish a variety of tasks:

Stamp states

  • California: $8.75 upland game bird validation.
  • Colorado: Implemented in 2006 a $10 habitat stamp, which all hunters must buy.
  • Connecticut: $28 Resident Game Bird Conservation Stamp.
  • Idaho: Requires Wildlife Management Area Pheasant Permit ($23.75 for residents, $51.75 for non-residents) to hunt stocked birds on nine WMAs.
  • Illinois: $5.50 Habitat Stamp for hunting wild pheasants.
  • Indiana: $6.75 Game Bird Habitat Stamp.
  • Iowa: $13 Habitat Stamp.
  • Maine: $17 Pheasant Permit.
  • Minnesota: $7.50 Pheasant Stamp.
  • Nebraska: $20 Habitat Stamp.
  • Nevada: $10 Upland Game Stamp.
  • New Hampshire: $31 Pheasant License.
  • New Jersey: $40 Pheasant and Quail Stamp required for hunters pursuing the birds on state and federal land where pen-raised birds are released.
  • New Mexico: $5 Habitat Stamp for anyone using Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management properties. A $4 Habitat Management and Access Validation is required statewide.
  • New York: $5 Habitat Stamp, which is voluntary.
  • North Dakota: Requires General Game and Habitat License ($10 for residents, $20 for non-residents).
  • Oregon: Upland Game Bird Validation/Stamp is $9 for residents, $41.50 for non-residents). The state also sells a $20 Habitat Conservation Stamp, but it’s not required.
  • Rhode Island: $15 Game Bird Permit.
  • Texas: $7 Upland Game Bird Stamp.
  • Wisconsin: $10 Pheasant Stamp.
  • Wyoming: $12.50 Pheasant Management Stamp, which is required of bird license holders who hunt certain areas.

States without special licenses or stamps

Among the states that don’t have specific stamps and/or licenses to raise money for upland habitat and other purposes are: Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and Washington. In at least Montana and Virginia, the concept of a stamp or similar program has been discussed at various times in the past, but ultimately was unpopular and not implemented.
“In some instances in states without stamps, their license fees might be higher, so all told they may be bringing in around the same amount of income as states with a stamp,” Taylor said.
And though there has been discussion in a number of conservation quarters about the possibility of a national Pheasant Stamp – or Upland Game Stamp – the idea never has gained much traction. With or without such a stamp, though, “There’s certainly a federal role to play through the Farm Bill and other means,” Taylor said.

How states use the money

The ways in which states use dollars generated from special stamps and licenses vary widely. In Minnesota, for example, the vast majority of money raised goes directly to habitat conservation in the state’s pheasant range. In Wisconsin, about 60 percent of the money raised by Pheasant Stamp sales goes to producing game farm birds for stocking. (Other states also operate similar put-and-take pheasant programs, and use stamp dollars to fund them.) The remaining 40 percent goes primarily to habitat work, but also education, outreach and research. And the money raised by Iowa’s Habitat Stamp generally goes to acquiring forestland, upland and wetland habitats, but is split a variety of ways ($4 per stamp to the DNR, split evenly between being used for habitat and paying property taxes, $4 to county conservation boards, $2 per for vendor handling, $2 for matching partnerships, primarily via the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and $1 to an access program).
Iowa’s Habitat Stamp is “super important” to the state’s habitat conservation efforts, said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa DNR. “Outside of Rhode Island, I don’t think there’s any state in the nation that has less public land areas than Iowa,” he said. “Any public land that’s come on the doles for us in probably the past decade is linked to the Habitat Stamp.”

Like in Iowa, Nebraska’s Habitat Stamp raises money for a wide variety of conservation projects, said Taylor, who before going to work for the national pheasant plan worked since 1996 in a number of capacities for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Even so, many projects have multiple benefits. For example: “Wetlands are often a key component of pheasant habitat in a lot of states,” he said. “Certainly, wetland and associated grassland habitat throughout the pheasant range is going to be generally beneficial.”
In Minnesota, there are stipulations for what Pheasant Stamp proceeds can be spent on, said Dave Trauba, the DNR’s regional wildlife manager for the southern part of the state. It can be spent on activities such as prescribed burning, planting prairie grass, woody cover removal and wetland restoration. The money cannot be spent on things such as staff salaries or general administration.
Stamp revenues generally are dispersed to local wildlife managers, with Trauba calling them “absolutely critical” to conservation work in the state’s pheasant range. “It’s really geared so that we can maximize on-the-ground habitat work,” Trauba said.
Important as the revenue is, the situation in Minnesota is similar to that in other states – stamp revenues are helpful, but only a part of the conservation funding mix. Wildlife managers in Minnesota, for example, likely won’t receive enough in stamp revenues to buy land or seed down hundreds of acres of native prairies, Trauba said.
“It’s not the one big project, but it’s supporting all those small projects that allow us to get the work done on the landscape,” he said.
Likewise, the stamp revenues in Wisconsin that go to habitat are supplemental pieces of the funding puzzle, according to Mark Witecha, upland wildlife ecologist and Farm Bill specialist for the Wisconsin DNR. Recently, the department has been allocating some of those dollars directly to wildlife managers in the field.
“I’ve been receiving word from local biologists that because they’re getting that money, they can take on larger, longer-term projects,” he said. “But our (stamp revenues) are far more about helping to create grassland areas and maintaining what we have. For the most part, it’s about habitat maintenance and establishment.”
Story by Joe Albert
Photo Credits: Main Image and First Image: Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Second Image: Greg Bordignon.