Fifteen percent of state conservation funding is provided by a little known tax, the burden of which is predominantly shouldered by the steadily vanishing hunter.
Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 has become an integral aspect of conservation in the U.S. Better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R), this legislation imposes an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment — money that is then distributed to the states, who must spend their allotted sum on the management of wildlife and habitat, research, surveys, or the acquisition or leasing of land.
P-R has played a major role in the recovery of whitetail deer, wood ducks, and wild turkeys.
P-R has played a major role in the recovery of whitetail deer, wood ducks, and wild turkeys. Also, lands acquired under the act have helped expand the ranges of both elk and black bears.
Over the years, P-R has been amended multiple times, and Congress is currently working on another update to the law.
On September 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2591, the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017. It was introduced by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Vice-Chair Rep. Austin Scott (Georgia), along with fellow CSC leaders Reps. Jeff Duncan (South Carolina), Gene Green (Texas) and Marc Veasey (Texas). The proposed amendment would increase flexibility for state wildlife agencies by allowing the use of P-R funds to be used for the recruitment of hunters and recreational shooters.
The decreasing number of hunters — a group that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, declined from 13.7 million in 2011 to 11.5 million in 2016, due in large part to the massive number of baby boomers who hunt — has led to increased uncertainty about the ability to maintain adequate funding levels for conservation in the U.S. However, this update to P-R would help ensure not only continued support for conservation but also the preservation of an imperiled pastime.
“With a national decline in outdoor recreational activities, Pittman-Robertson funds are shrinking and our state and local habitats are suffering, which is why I have been fighting to give states more flexibility in how they [can] use their P-R funds and hopefully attract more Americans to the outdoors in the process,” said Scott.
This update to P-R would help ensure not only continued support for conservation but also the preservation of an imperiled pastime.
Without instituting new taxes or fees, H.R. 2591 would expand the Multi-state Conservation Grants Program by providing an additional $5 million annually from archery-related excise taxes. However, the legislation would place a cap on the amount of funds that can be spent on hunter and recreational shooter recruitment to ensure that wildlife conservation remains the primary focus of the act.
“Recruitment and retention of new hunters means more dollars in the Pittman-Robertson fund, which directly benefits state-based conservation efforts across the United States. [The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation] will continue to work closely with CSC leadership in order to bring this important legislation to the president’s desk,” said Jeff Crane President of CSF, a nonprofit whose mission is to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.
The Senate companion bill, S. 1613 — which is sponsored by all four CSC Senate leaders, Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Deb Fischer (Nebraska) and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) — awaits a hearing with the Environment and Public Works Committee.
With a focus on the future, this evolution of P-R reinforces the importance not only of hunting in the North American Model of Conservation but also of sharing the tradition with others.