News: Congress votes in favor of conservation

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On Thursday, December 19, 2019, Congress passed the 2020 budget, sending the bill to President Trump’s desk for his final signature. Among a slew of massive fiscal changes – including controversial military spending – Congress included a major revision to the Pittman-Robertson Act.

Photo by Rhett Noonan

What is the Pittman-Robertson Act?

In short, the Pittman-Robertson Act is the big conservation legislature that takes care of our public lands. Created in 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act) was created as a way to combat declining populations of over-hunted wildlife. The bill places an excise tax to provide state funding to manage endangered wildlife species and their habitats.

These taxes are placed on firearm and ammunition sales, and are paid by manufacturers, producers, and importers of these products.

As of 2017, over $7 billion has been collected from these taxes and made available to states for conservation efforts.

The Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act

Known as the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act (The Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act), the update will help states recruit new hunters through new allocations of state funds.

If a state has not used all of the tax revenues apportioned to it for firearm and bow hunter education and safety program grants, it may use its remaining apportioned funds for the enhancement of hunter recruitment and recreational shooter recruitment.

H.R. 2591 Bill Summary

The bill also allows up to $5 million to the Department of the Interior so they can provide grants for hunter recruitment and training purposes. These grants will go to national recruitment and training programs and outreach activities.

Why recruitment is important

For years, hunter populations have been facing a steady decline, causing a ripple effect in conservation.

Under the new law, some of these state funds are to be allocated for recruiting and marketing to new hunters. The idea behind this is that adding new hunters to the ranks will increase the income flow into the excise taxes, state park and licensing fees, and training classes. Adding income to these markets will increase the conservation funding for the state and national parks and wildlife refuges, which in turn will increase national conservation efforts as a whole.

Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts a national survey to measure wildlife and outdoors usage around the country. This survey is considered the “definitive source of information concerning participation and purchases associated with hunting, fishing and other forms of wildlife-related recreation nationwide.” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016).

In 2016, the survey found that despite an increase in wildlife participation, hunter participation is in a decline. Hunter numbers dropped from 13.7 million in 2011 to 11.5 million in 2016. Fishing also took a hit; fishing dropped from 35.8 million to 33.1 million.

Download the entire U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2016 survey here.

Download the entire U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2011 survey here.

I ran the numbers comparing U.S. hunter participation between 2011 and 2016. Viewing the chart below, it’s easy to see the impact lower participation has on each wildlife group – from big game such a deer, elk, and bear to small animals such as raccoons.

Declining hunter participation means less money is being spent. Check out the chart below, where you can see the difference in hunting expenses in just equipment alone. Note that despite the increase in auxiliary equipment expenses, there is still a significant overall drop in expenditures.

Hunting equipment includes the following:

  • guns and rifles
  • telescopic sights
  • ammunition

Auxiliary equipment includes:

  • camping equipment
  • binoculars
  • hunting clothing and accessories

Special equipment includes:

  • campers
  • ATVs

And hunters don’t just spend money on equipment. The expenses seen above don’t include the amount hunters spend on hunting trips ($9.2 billion in 2016), and other costs such as magazines and DVDs, classes, licenses, etc.

When it comes to the Pittman-Robertson Act, the biggest expenses to look at are those related to guns and ammunition. The excise tax places 11% of wholesale prices on long guns and ammunition and 10% on handguns.

These funds are then allocated to the states in a variety of ways:

  • $8 million to enhanced hunter education programs (including construction and maintenance of target ranges).
  • $3 million for projects
  • 50% of taxes collected on handguns goes to basic hunter education programs
  • The other 50% divided in half:
    • One half given to states based on the land area of the state proportionate to the land area of the country.
    • The other half given to states based on the number of individually-paid hunting license holders in the state proportionate to the national total.

When a state receives these funds, they are then able to properly educate their hunting population on major topics such as gun safety, hunting safety, and so much more. They’re able to provide classes on target shooting, recreation, and programs to enhance a hunter’s knowledge and ability.

Providing these programs allows new hunters to join the ranks armed with the education they need to stay safe and create an enjoyable outdoor experience for everyone – hunters and non-hunters alike.

Hunting and conservation

Hunting also provides revenue through these taxes for conservation efforts to maintain populations and prevent endangerment and habitat destruction.

When the Pittman-Robertson Act was first created in 1937, species such as the white-tailed deer and wild turkey were quickly becoming endangered. Since the Act’s start, these and other species such as wood ducks have seen a major rebound thanks to major efforts on wildlife and habitat management.

There is a major increase in wildlife participation in general – however, hunters are on the decline. With hunting as a vitally important cog in the wheel of wildlife management and conservation, the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act hopes to bring about a new generation of hunters and anglers.

Public lands belong to all of us. Let’s protect them like our own.

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