Federal funding is up as firearms sales rise

Lansing — Michigan’s deer, grouse, and other wildlife programs are in line for record federal funding in 2013. Ammunition, firearms, and archery sales all surged in 2012. That rise in sales is translating to record payouts to hunting and wildlife habitat programs all across the country, federal officials said last week. 

“The gross receipts for 2012 were $555,769,306 and that’s a record,” said Jim Hodgson, chief of the Wildlife and Sport Fishing Restoration Program for the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Even with an 8.1-percent sequestration (money held back until Congress works out the budget), the money is so great that the states will get more than last year.

“We are looking at apportioning $501,326,993 to the states for wildlife restoration and hunter education and that is still a record,” he said.

The federal funds come from excise taxes collected on firearms and archery equipment under the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. The money is returned to states for hunter education and wildlife restoration. How much each state gets is based on the number of square miles available for restoration and habitat creation along with the number of certified hunting license buyers.

Michigan is eligible to get more than $17 million, according to Hodgson, up from $12.3 million in 2012 and from 2010 when Michigan received a record $16.1 million.

But state officials say the 2013 funding is not yet a done deal. States must come up with a 25-percent match to receive the funds.

“It looks like we are in for a banner year. The challenge will be coming up with the match for those funds,” said Russ Mason, chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Division. “We are very close to having a problem coming up with the match.”

One problem is that conservation officers are not eligible for the federal funds. Law enforcement is largely covered by the state Game and Fish Fund (hunting and fishing license fees), which also pays for fisheries and wildlife programs.

The Game and Fish Fund is also the source of the federal match. But there is only so much to go around, and a decade of declining license sales has resulted in less money being available.

“Our license sales have been going down every year and that is really unfortunate,” said Sharon Schafer, budget chief for the DNR. “It continues to drop every year, and that affects the formula.”

Mason said the department will assess where it needs to spend and where spending will yield the biggest return. That may result in shifting money from other programs to make the match.

“We are dancing close to the edge, but we have two years to come up with it. We don’t need to match it all this year,” Mason said.

The federal money would go to expanding the state’s pheasant restoration initiative, and improving waterfowl hunting and viewing at managed areas, according to Mason. It also would go to the state’s woodcock initiative.

“The fourth area and of highest importance to me would be doing more for deer in the Upper Peninsula and for winter yarding habitat,” Mason said. “I would be looking at all of these things.”

Any funds held back because of federal sequestration will be protected in a special fund, Hodgson said. It cannot be used for other federal projects and eventually will be allocated to the states. 

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