The Everyday Hunter: Congressman Seeks to Gut Wildlife Funding

All wildlife, both hunted and non-hunted species, benefits from the Pittman-Robertson funds. That’s why America has the most abundant and accessible wildlife in the world. Let’s keep it that way. (Steve Sorensen photo)

Who funds wildlife? That might seem like an odd question. Government has countless programs that fund people, but wildlife doesn’t pay rent, use food stamps, buy health insurance, or draw Social Security. And it gets nothing from the defense budget. Why would wildlife need funding? What do we mean by “Who funds wildlife?”

Few people know that wildlife benefits from a very successful, longstanding government funding program, a program that’s under threat right now. If the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937ends, wildlife will suffer. It produces billions of dollars for wildlife, so it’s no wonder that from time to time legislators want to get their sticky hands on that money. Now is one of those times.

To describe how wildlife benefits from this tremendous cash haul, a little history. In the 1800s wildlife populations were devastated by pressures from market hunting, a rapidly growing human population in America, and the “progressive” mantra of “Manifest Destiny.” Farsighted conservationists responded by ending market hunting, bringing controls with seasons and bag limits, and preserving millions of acres of land. And states began establishing game agencies on austere budgets.

These fledgling state game agencies had a big task in front of them, but almost no money for several decades. Then, in 1937, at the urging of influential sportsman, Senator Key Pittman (Nevada) and Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson (Virginia) proposed legislation that established an excise tax of 11% on guns and ammunition, devoting that money solely to the operation of wildlife management through state game agencies.

The program was so successful that the Dingell-Johnson Act was passed in 1950 to fund fisheries. These two programs have provided more than $25 billion, with a record $1.5 billion set to be distributed in 2022!

Instead of going to the United States Treasury, the money goes to the Department of the Interior, and every dollar is distributed to the states based on the number of hunting licenses sold and the size of the state. It’s efficient, has no waste, and provides wildlife law enforcement, education, habitat restoration, research, protection for threatened species, and much more.

How does it work? Let’s say you buy a $500 gun. The 11% tax built into the price will go to your state game agency. It adds up in a big way. On the wildlife side, states receive on average $3 of Pittman-Robertson money for every $1 they raise themselves — so about 75% of the money that supports wildlife depends on this source.

Politicians would love to control that money and this isn’t the first time they’ve tried. They will gut wildlife funding to get it. Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-GA) introduced the RETURN Act (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now), seeking to eliminate the 11 percent federal excise tax that funds wildlife conservation in America. His rationalization is that any tax on the purchase of firearms and ammunition is an infringement on gun ownership. Never mind that sportsmen asked for this tax, and that hunting has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. And he proposes to fund wildlife conservation through the political whims the United States Treasury is subject to.

More than 50 Members of Congress are original co-sponsors, showing how ignorant many in our Congress are about how wildlife is funded in this country. Sadly, many hunters don’t know either, but we need to know and we need to oppose the RETURN Act.

If this misguided legislation becomes law, wildlife will lose the lion’s share of its funding and it will be impossible to replace it with anything as reliable and as closely tied to conservation purposes. It will help no one, and eliminate most funding for wildlife.

The trend is beginning to swing against Rep. Clyde. A few congressmen have dropped their support, but we need to keep it going. Write your Congressional representative now, and tell him or her to oppose Rep. Clyde’s RETURN Act with every effort. If his bill passes, hunters and wildlife will be the losers.
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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting ,
talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.