Policy Analysis | April 2015

State Funding of Gaming, Fishing and Wildlife Departments

Sujit CanagaRetna

Budgets for the state departments overseeing gaming, fishing and wildlife operations in 11 states were evaluated to identify and compare annual budgets and major funding sources; fee schedules for hunting and fishing licenses; and to determine whether the state offered lifetime licenses.* The states reviewed are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Of these 11 states, two (Ohio and Kentucky) did not offer lifetime licenses; the remaining nine states did offer lifetime licenses.
A file with 13 different spreadsheets providing information on budget amounts, major funding sources and per capita spending levels in each of the 11 states listed above is linked here. The first two spreadsheets, Appendix 1 (State Funding of Gaming, Fishing and Wildlife Departments) and Appendix 2 (Details of State Funding Levels) are macro-level analyses of the information compiled. In addition, an individual spreadsheet for each of the 11 states that details the various amounts charged for the different kinds of licenses (hunting, fishing etc.) along with a wealth of information on the fees associated with the different states is included.
There was a great deal of variation in terms of the budget size and major funding sources in the different states. Figures 1 and 2 reflect these trends:
Figure 1 shows budgets for each state's department of gaming, fishing and wildlife, ranging from over $350 million in Texas to $50 million in Kentucky
Source: Departmental budgets (Data and sources in Appendix 1). Please note that not all fiscal years are the same, as preference was given to detailed departmental (rather than overall state) budgets, and data was extracted from the most recent, available fiscal year.
Figure 2 shows a breakdown of funding sources for each state's department of gaming, fishing and wildlife with notable differences described in the following paragraph
Source: Departmental budgets (Data and sources in Appendix 1). Note that not all fiscal years are the same, preference was given to detailed departmental (rather than state) budgets, and data was extracted from the most recent, available fiscal year.
While all 11 states collected revenues generated from licensing fees, other fees, fines, or sales (of timber and miscellaneous department merchandise), i.e., “other” revenues, three states (Georgia, Mississippi and Texas) did not indicate these other revenues as a funding source in their budgets. While the departments in these three states do count these other revenues as a funding source, they are routed differently through the state budget process. Specifically,

  • Georgia directs revenues from these other sources to the state general fund. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources then receives funding from the state. As a result, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources receives a much higher percentage of its budget (59 percent) from the state’s general fund compared to most other states.
  • Texas directs these other revenue sources to special, dedicated accounts. The largest of Texas’ special funds is the Game, Fish and Water Safety Account, which comprises 35 percent of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s budget for FY 2015. The main sources of revenue for this Account include: fishing and hunting licenses, permits, and stamps; federal funds received for fish and wildlife research and activities; boat user, manufacturer, and dealer registration and titling fees, as well as boat and boat motor sales and use tax; and other activities and sources, such as the sale/lease of grazing rights on public lands; the sale of sand, shell and gravel; fines and penalties collected for violations of laws pertaining to the protection of fish, game and wildlife; and interest earnings.
  • The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks budget information was extracted from the state budget, as detailed departmental reports were unavailable. It is reasonable to assume that these licensing fees, fines and sales are captured in the “other” category, which comprises 62 percent of the Department’s budget.

These different funding mechanisms are reflected in the largest funding source for each of the three states as shown in Figure 2: Texas has $172.7 million from state special funds, Georgia has $32.6 million from the state General Fund, and Mississippi derives most of its funding from ‘other’ sources.
Departments in five of the 11 states reviewed reported securing funding from their state’s general fund: Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. Aside from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which directs its revenue to the general fund, the departments in these five states received between 12 percent and 28 percent of funding from their state’s general fund. The departments in all 11 states received federal funding/reimbursement, ranging from 11 percent to 33 percent of their overall budgets.
With some exceptions, per capita spending on gaming, fishing and wildlife trended higher in states with smaller populations, as shown in Figure 3. West Virginia, with 1.9 million people, had the highest per capita spending on gaming, fishing and wildlife. Texas, Missouri and Alabama were the three states reviewed with the largest budgets, and in terms of per capita spending, Missouri ($29.94) and Alabama ($26.18), ranked second and third among the 11 states reviewed. In Missouri, a portion of the state’s sales tax (1/8th of one percent), termed the Conservation Sales Tax, flowed to the state’s Department of Conservation, a trend that boosted the department’s budget. Protected by a 1999 state Supreme Court ruling, revenues from this tax must be used solely for conservation purposes cannot be funneled to the state’s general fund. In FY 2013-2014, Missouri’s Conservation Sales Tax contributed more than $107 million to the Department of Conservation’s annual budget (as shown in Figure 2). Of the states examined, Missouri and Arkansas are the only states that collect a conservation sales tax (as shown in Appendix 2).
Figure 3 shows per capita spending for each state's department
Sources: Departmental budgets (Appendix 1) and the United States Census Bureau’s 2014 estimate data. States are ordered by descending population.

*Please note that the names of the departments that cover these activities vary in the 11 states though essentially they oversee and cover the same issue areas. The formal names of the departments are: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; Missouri Department of Conservation; North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.