Last week, on Sept. 14, Sen. Malcolm Wallop died at his home near Big Horn, Wyo., at the age of 78. Wallop served as a U.S. senator in his home state of Wyoming from 1977 to 1995, and during that time co-authored one of the most important -- and one of the most successful -- pieces of legislation for outdoorsmen.
That legislation is now known as the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the 1950 Sport Fish Restoration Act, also known as the Dingell-Johnson Act. Here in brief is the legislative trail, followed by an explanation of its tremendous importance.
> 1937 -- Congress extends an existing 10 percent excise tax on ammunition and firearms used for hunting, and earmarks the proceeds to be distributed to states for wildlife restoration. This was and still is (though now expanded) the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration act, better known as Pittman-Robertson after its sponsors. The bill was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sept. 2, 1937.
> 1950 -- The successful Pittman-Robertson Act is copied on the recreational fishing side (10 percent tax on fishing tackle), and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson) is signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on Aug. 9, 1950 -- after he vetoed it the year before.
> 1984 -- Dingell-Johnson is significantly expanded by what's now known as the Wall-Breaux Amendment -- so much so that the fishing "side" of the so-called "Federal Aid" program is now known as Wallop-Breaux.
Both programs -- fishing and hunting -- have been amended several times to expand the pool of money available for return to state fish and game agencies: It is earmarked only for use by those agencies. To date, several billion dollars have been returned to these agencies for managing fish and wildlife, and for providing access to both.
At this point, most fish and game departments rely exclusively on license and permit sales and Pittman-Robertson/Wallop-Breaux money to fund their programs, so the Federal Aid program is key to their survival.
The Federal Aid excise taxes are taxes paid by manufacturers, though of course they are "passed on" to anglers and hunters. Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, told OutdoorChannel.com that Sen. Wallop "always flinched a little bit when you called it a tax.
"But I remember one time when I was in his office, he [said he] was very proud of putting this [Wallop-Breaux] proposal together and passing it, and even afterwards [was proud of] people feeling they were getting their money's worth out of it. He was just very pleased with his fatherhood of the program -- and any program where the anglers and industry collectively think it works, you have to be proud of that."
Nussman added, "I thinks it's safe to say that without this program, sport fishing in America would not be the activity that we all have come to love and value today. It would be a much reduced version of itself." Wallop-Breaux" is clearly one of the major reasons we enjoy the quality of fishing we do today."
Wallop was a conservative, and will be remembered for many things -- like pushing the "Star Wars" missile defense system to President Ronald Reagan, trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act because he saw it as giving the government power over too much land, and even creating the annual government "red tape awards."
He apparently was a religious man who every year would go to poor parts of Washington, D.C., and hand out money. But he will be remembered most in the outdoors community for significantly enhancing a program that has significantly enhanced outdoor experiences, and which has literally kept fish and wildlife agencies in business.