What does the veto budget mean for wildlife?

Photo by Ed Marsh

How the line item vetoes impact Alaska’s wildlife

by Nicole Schmitt
Director of Programs and Development at Alaska Wildlife Alliance

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut $444 million on Friday from the $8.7 billion state operating budget proposed by lawmakers. The reductions are part of the governor’s plan to pay a traditional Permanent Fund dividend without spending from savings or raising taxes.

How do the budget line-item vetoes impact wildlife? The budget cuts over $6.4 million from the state’s wildlife and environmental health services and excludes the state from millions of dollars in matching federal Pittman-Robertson funds.  

We went line-by-line to determine cuts to wildlife and environmental services.

Stripping the Fish and Game Fund authority to provide the necessary match for federal Pittman-Robertson funds

The Alaska Wildlife Alliance recognizes the long history of hunters in American wildlife conservation. When hunters say “We pay for conservation”, many of them refer directly to the Pittman- Robertson funds (P-R funds).

In post-depression 1930s America, wildlife populations were decimated. Hunters groups mobilized and, in the words of Alaskan writer Steve Meyer, “influential sportsmen and women steeped in the pursuit as healthy, life-embracing recreation were prepared to put their money where their mouth was…they conceived a method of involving all hunters and shooters in the nation’s wildlife restoration efforts.”

In 1937, Nevada Sen. Key Pittman and Virginia Rep. Absalom Robertson sponsored the Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law on Sept. 2, 1937. The common language for the bill in mainstream speech became the “Pittman-Robertson Act.”

The P-R Act marked a rare time in American history when the citizenry requested a tax on themselves. An excise tax of 11% would be levied on all sales of rifles, shotguns, ammunition, archery equipment, and 10% on handguns. The tax goes into a separate fund that is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It operates on what is collected, not on deficit spending or congressional intervention.

For states to receive these funds, they must contribute a 25 percent match. The P-R fund allocation is based on a formula that considers land mass and paid license holders. Alaska, with its minimal human inhabitants and enormous land mass, is second only to Texas in available funds. In the 2018 fiscal year, Alaska was offered $36.7 million in P-R funds. Alaska’s 25 percent match for the funds comes from hunting license fees. The state Legislature voted in 2016 to increase those fees, at the encouragement of hunters, to get access to the rising amount of available funds.

Without the state’s 25 percent match, Alaska will not be eligible to receive the full Pittman-Robertson Act funds Alaska will be allocated in 2019. What does this look like for wildlife conservation programming? In 2018, some of the P-R supported projects included:

  • Over $980,000 in hunter education programs

  • Over $2 million in public and hunter information services

  • More than $300,000 in wildlife health and disease surveillance

  • $455,000 in Refuges and Special Area Management

  • Over $5 million in wildlife conservation coordination

Additionally, the 2018 funds supported millions of dollars in research and population studies on many of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife species, including arctic caribou, brown bear, black bear, moose, dall sheep, wolves, deer, bison, migratory birds, elk , mountain goat, musk ox, marten, and small game. For a full list of P-R historically supported funds, click here.

In short, the nation-wide tax on firearms and ammunition will remain, as well as the state hunting license fee, but Alaska will not be eligible to receive the full allocation from the tax.

Defunding the Ocean Ranger cruise ship pollution inspection program

The Ocean Rangers program was modeled on a federal program that monitors the fishing fleet. Coast Guard-certified marine engineers ride aboard cruise ships to monitor compliance with state and federal requirements pertaining to marine discharge and pollution. It’s the only program of its kind in the nation.

The 2006 ballot measure that created the Ocean Rangers was, in part, a response to well-publicized violations by cruise ships that resulted in millions of dollars in fines for pollution. Ocean Rangers have been monitoring cruise ships in Alaska since 2007, and in 2018 monitors were aboard two-thirds of the cruise ships in Alaska waters. They logged 189 alleged violations, including repeat offenders.

This $3.4 million program was entirely funded by fees from the cruise ship industry – the veto does not save tax dollars.

Fisheries, subsistence, oil spill response, and renewable energy

The state will also lose $1.2 million in ADF&G fisheries management funding (southeast, central, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, and westward regions as well as statewide funding cuts).

Over $250,000 will also be cut from state subsistence research (ADF&G), and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council received thousands of dollars in cuts.

The Department of Environmental Conservation, in addition to the $3.4 million loss of the Ocean Ranger program, will also lose over $300,000 in its environmental health, air quality, and water quality infrastructure programs.

The veto budget also cuts $454,000 from the Renewable Energy Grant Fund, which provides benefits to Alaskans by assisting communities across the state to reduce and stabilize the cost of energy. The program is designed to produce cost-effective renewable energy for heat and power to benefit Alaskans statewide.

What’s next?

The House Finance Committee is considering legislation that would restore all the items vetoed by the governor and pay out a $929 Permanent Fund dividend. Members of the House majority emphasize that the programs funded by the bill and the size of the 2019 PFD are starting points for negotiations. Alaskans can visit http://akleg.gov/index.php to find their representatives and make their voice heard.


The Alaska Wildlife Alliance is a 501c3 that advocates for healthy ecosystems, scientifically and ethically managed to protect Alaska’s wildlife for present and future generations.