Federal funding sweetens DNR’s pot

St. Paul — Anyone who’s attempted to buy some particular types of ammunition probably won’t be surprised by the news from Washington last week: The amount of money divvied among state agencies from a federal fund created by a tax on the sale of guns and ammo will reach a new record for 2014. It’s also helpful that money “sequestered” by the federal government last year, too, will be disbursed.

For Minnesota, that will mean a 46-percent increase in the dollars available via the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program, or more than $23 million this year versus about $16 million last year.

“It’s a significant jump,” said Ed Boggess, the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division director.

Unlike some other states, Minnesota always has taken advantage of its full apportionment of P-R funding, which reimburses the department 75 percent for projects already completed. Moreover, the federal funding goes into the state’s Game and Fish Fund once qualifying projects are done; rather than have “extra” money, the additional federal funding will, likely for now, pad the account.

“What we capture is reimbursed into the Game and Fish Fund,” Boggess said. “We’re adding to the balance of the fund.”

For a while prior to last year’s increase in hunting and fishing licenses, increases in P-R dollars allowed the state fund to remain in the black, longer. Now, Boggess said, the increase might prompt the department to consider additional spending.

He called the approach to spending or saving a matter of philosophy.

Such proposals to spend more on other initiatives, at least in Minnesota, must be approved by the governor, Boggess said.

Nationwide, the P-R program apportionment for 2014 was a record $761 million, distributed among states based on a geographic land mass/hunting license formula. This year’s amount also included $20 million that was sequestered from fiscal year 2013, but was returned to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, according to the Department of the Interior.

This was the second straight year of impressive increases in P-R funding, Boggess said; last year the funding increase was about 43 percent.

This year’s state appropriation was about double that of just two years ago.

Boggess said the state’s average was about $8 million in P-R funding prior to 2010. Since then the average was about $12 million a year prior to the big bumps last year and this year.

As a matter of planning, he said department officials don’t expect the recent unprecedented hikes in federal dollars to continue.

“I think this is definitely a bubble,” he said. “At some point, people will be less concerned – the reasons they buy guns and ammo now may change.”

Boggess said the federal dollars currently represent about one-third of the Game and Fish budget (coupled with Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration dollars).

“It’s a very significant source of revenue for the state,” he said. “I don’t want to see it go backward, but we never expected this level of (P-R) revenue.”

The biggest projects that qualify for Pittman-Robertson funds, Boggess said, are land acquisition, usually state wildlife management areas; wildlife habitat management projects; and wildlife population surveys and research.

While P-R dollars surged forward, federal Dingell-Johnson dollars took a step backward this year, with total federal dollars available dropping from about $360 million last year to about $333 million this year. Minnesota’s portion was down about 12 percent, Boggess said, to just under $12 million.

The state gets that funding the same way it gets P-R funds: complete eligible projects, and get 75 percent reimbursement. States are allowed two years to complete eligible projects, but Minnesota’s typically are done within a year.

Compared to P-R funds available, D-J has been relatively stable over the years. In the state, D-J funding supports things like fish stocking, fish surveys, and aquatic habitat projects, Boggess said.

All told, Minnesota could take in about $35.3 million via the two accounts from this year’s funding. That ranks fifth nationally, behind Texas ($51.6 million), Alaska ($48.8 million), California ($41.6 million), and Pennsylvania ($35.7 million).

According to an Interior press release, “The (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) apportions the funds to all 50 states and territories through the (P-R and D-J) programs. Revenues come from excise taxes generated by the sale of sporting firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment and tackle, and electric outboard motors. Recreational boaters also contribute to the program through fuel taxes on motorboats and small engines.”

The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs have generated a total of more than $15 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. The recipient fish and wildlife agencies have matched these program funds with more than $5 billion.

“Anyone who enjoys our nation’s outdoor heritage should thank hunters, anglers, recreational boaters, and target shooters,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the press release. “Through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, these individuals have created a 75-year legacy for conservation of critical wildlife habitat and improved access to the outdoors for everyone.”

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