The Pittman-Robertson Act directs excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to be used for wildlife conservation purposes. To date, this important piece of legislation has contributed nearly $11 billion to wildlife conservation since enactment in 1937. Unfortunately, America’s sportsmen and women are experiencing a lack of opportunities to participate in America’s time-honored traditions of hunting and recreational shooting. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members, and sportsmen’s conservation partners are working to ensure the future of this important system of wildlife conservation funding.
Enacted in 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act) redirected the existing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to a dedicated fund to be used specifically for wildlife conservation purposes. In 1972, archery equipment was added to the Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax (FAET). The excise tax is set at 10% of the wholesale price for pistols and revolvers, and 11% for other firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. The excise tax on firearms and ammunition is collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, while the Internal Revenue Service collects the excises on archery products. Once collected, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and Internal Revenue Service deposit the excise taxes into the Wildlife Restoration Account, which is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Pittman-Robertson funds are typically allocated among four subsections:
- Basic Hunter Education (“Section 4(c)”) – one half of the excise tax on pistols, revolvers, bows, and arrows is distributed to the states and territories. Section 4(c) may cover up to 75% of the costs of a hunter safety program, and the construction, operation, and maintenance of public target ranges.
- Enhanced Hunter Education (“Section 10”) - $8 million is allocated among the states and territories in the same way as Section 4(c) funds, but if a state has not spent all of its Section 4(c) funds on Basic Hunter Education, it is required to spend Section 10 funds on enhanced hunter education programs.
- Multistate Conservation Grants (“Section 11”) - $3 million is set aside for projects that involve cooperation among multiple states.
- Remainder of the Funds (“Section 4(b)”) – Section 4(b) is the bulk of the Pittman-Robertson Program and is used for wildlife conservation. A small percent of this section is distributed to U.S. territories. The fund is then divided in half, with one half distributed to the states based on land mass, and the other half based on paid hunting licenses.
This “user-pays, public-benefits” system of conservation funding directly benefits consumptive and non-consumptive users alike. The ever increasing urbanization and suburbanization of our population has made it far more difficult for Americans to participate in hunting and recreational shooting than it was in 1937 when the Pittman-Robertson Act was enacted. Hunters, recreational shooters, and archery enthusiasts are the backbone of wildlife conservation in the United States.
Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017 (H.R. 2591/S.1613) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Vice-Chair Congressman Austin Scott along with both CSC Co-Chairs Congressmen Jeff Duncan and Gene Green, and fellow CSC Vice-Chair Congressman Marc Veasey on May 22, 2017. On July 20, 2017, CSC Senate Co-Chair Senator Jim Risch introduced S.1613 along with fellow Co-Chair Senator Joe Manchin, and CSC Vice-Chairs Senators Deb Fischer and Heidi Heitkamp.
Each bipartisan bill would clarify that one of the purposes of P-R is to extend financial and technical assistance to the states for the promotion of hunting and recreational shooting. Specifically, these bills would increase flexibility for state wildlife agencies and their use of P-R funds for the recruitment of hunters and recreational to continue P-R funding into the future. Without establishing any new taxes or fees, this legislation would increase flexibility for state wildlife agencies and their uses of P-R funds for the recruitment of hunters and recreational shooters by expanding the Multistate Conservation Grant program through providing an additional $5 million annually from archery related excise taxes. Additionally, this 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 P-R. Without a federal mandate or establishing any new taxes or fees, this legislation will ensure the future of this important wildlife conservation funding program.
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