Federal funds pouring into N.Y.

Washington — Soaring gun and ammunition sales in 2012 will pour millions of excise tax dollars into conservation and recreation projects across the nation.

In New York, funds generated through the Pittman-Robertson Act – an 11 percent tax on shotguns and rifles, archery equipment and ammunition and a 10 percent tax on handguns – ballooned more than 40 percent in 2012, to $14,198,793. That number is up from $10,062,572 in fiscal 2012. 

“Everybody’s buying (guns and ammo),” DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang told the Conservation Fund Advisory Board. “They were buying even before Newtown (school shootings).”

Federal officials say the bulk of the increase is coming from skyrocketing ammunition sales, although long gun sales have also increased. They attribute much of that to a rebounding economy. But Hannibal Bolton, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, says tightened gun laws have fueled more gun sales that could lead to an even bigger jump in Pittman-Robertson funds next year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this spike could continue,” he said.

DEC officials said the mandatory, across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration will reduce the amount of federal dollars New York will immediately receive.

“But even with the sequester we’ll receive more money,” Stang said.

Steve Hurst, chief of DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife Services, also predicted New York’s Pittman-Robertson allocation will continue to rise.

“This is nothing compared to what it’s going to be two years from now,” he said. “It’s more of a problem being able to spend the money.”

While New York’s Pittman-Robertson funds increased, the federal dollars through the  Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program – funded through taxes on rods, reels, lures, baits and even motorboat fuels and import duties on pleasure boats and yachts – declined in fiscal 2013.

That dip, from about $9.6 million in 2012 to $8.54 million this year, is largely the product of New York’s repeal of a saltwater fishing license in favor of a no-fee registry for those anglers.

“We don’t receive credit for the non-fee registries, and the 2013 federal fiscal year apportionment is based on the year for which New York no longer had the paid marine licenses,” Stang said.

Nationally, more than $882.4 million in 2012 excise tax revenues will be distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies to fund fish and wildlife conservation and recreation projects across the nation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

These funds are made available to all 50 states and territories through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs. Revenues come from excise taxes generated by the sale of sporting firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment and electric outboard motors.

Recreational boaters also contribute to the program through fuel taxes on motorboats and small engines.

“The sporting community has provided the financial and spiritual foundation for wildlife conservation in America for more than 75 years,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. “Through these programs, hunters, anglers, recreational boaters and target shooters continue to fund vital fish and wildlife management and conservation, recreational boating access, and hunter and aquatic education programs.”

Jeff Vonk, president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, called the federal funds “the lifeblood for funding fish and wildlife conservation; supporting public safety education; and opening access for outdoor recreation that benefits everyone.”

The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program apportionment to states for 2013 totals $522.5 million, up from $371.2 million in fiscal 2012.

The Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program apportionment stood at $359.9 million this year, up from $349.8 million.

As a result of the federal sequester, the apportionments have been reduced by 5.1 percent – about $39.2 million. Additional Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration grant funding to the states has also been cut, for a total sequestration-related reduction of about $44 million.

The Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program reimburses up to 75 percent of the cost of each eligible project while state fish and wildlife agencies contribute a minimum of 25 percent, generally using hunting and fishing license revenues as the required non-federal match.

By law, state wildlife agencies can use their Pittman-Robertson funding for hunter education, hunter recruitment and outreach, wildlife habitat improvement, land purchases and wildlife research.

The two programs have generated more than $15.3 billion since their inception – in 1937 in the case of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program, and 1950 for the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program – to conserve fish and wildlife resources.

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