In Pennsylvania and across the country, hunters’ and fishermen’s dollars are key to wildlife funding
Hunters, anglers and trappers aren’t afraid to “put their money where their mouth is.“ In fact, if it weren’t for sportsmen stepping up and footing the bill for wildlife conservation, our nation’s white-tailed deer, wild turkey, pronghorn antelope, rocky mountain elk and assorted waterfowl populations could be non-existent today.
In the early 1900s, unregulated and commercial over-harvest of game species, coupled with severe drought, timbering and habitat loss across the country put an extreme stress on the nation’s wildlife species.
It was at this time when those who care most about these species – the sportsmen who so passionately pursue them – approached Congress with a proposal to help protect our country’s wild places and the wildlife inhabiting them.
In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act) became a law, through which an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition products would be used to help fund wildlife conservation in the United States.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, revenue generated from the Pittman-Robertson excise tax is apportioned to state wildlife agencies for conservation efforts, hunter education, shooting-range projects and program grants.
More specifically, the firearms and ammunition industry supports an 11-percent excise tax on all rifle, shotgun and ammunition sales, plus a 10-percent excise tax on handgun sales. Together, the Pittman-Robertson Act has garnered more than $8-billion for conservation and public land access since its inception.
Similar excise taxes also exist on archery equipment, such as bows, quivers, broad heads and arrow shafts, as well as fishing gear and other outdoors-related items. However, few consumers actually notice the tax, since industry manufacturers typically build them into the overall sales price of the products.
According to the Fish & Wildlife Funding Survey, conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Fund of America, the agency’s annual contribution is comprised of $749 million through excise taxes paid solely by sportsmen (25.7 percent), more than $1.42 billion through state hunting and fishing license sales (48.7 percent) and $608 million in other revenues, including Federal Duck Stamp sales and sportsmen-led conservation organization contributions (20.8 percent). The remaining approximately 5 percent comes from state funds and interest income.
These are some incredible numbers, and I find it even more incredible that the general public is not more aware of how significantly the sportsman’s dollar impacts land acquisition, conservation and education for the benefit of all wildlife species- game and non-game alike.
During a recent trip to Cabela’s Retail Store in Hamburg, Pa., I learned exactly how unapprised even avid outdoorsmen were of how much their purchases made a difference.
While speaking with several customers, it was evident most had little knowledge the “PR" excise tax even existed, but after briefly explaining how it worked, they were generally quite supportive of it.
“I’m OK with it,” remarked one man from Luzerne County, who had recently purchased a firearm. “I just feel it should be publicized more. We also pay a range fee on top of it.”
Ron Pfeiffer, from Hillsboro, N.J., admitted he was ignorant of the PR excise tax but would probably support it.
“I don’t know enough about it to really speak to it, but I would think the pro-hunting and fishing organizations, such as the NRA would be all for it. I’d be interested to learn more about it,” Pfeiffer said.
But one man hit the nail on the head.
“I think we (sportsmen) have to step up to the plate,” said Mark Horrell, a hunter from Mohrsville in Berks County. “The number of public lands are dwindling, and wildlife species need the support of those who care.”
“I think this is a good thing for hunters and for the whole ecosystem in general. It’s not just good for game species but all wildlife. Land supports rabbits, rabbits support foxes; everything is interdependent. I think paying a little extra for that is fair.”
I truly believe many sportsmen share Horrell’s sentiments, myself included. Even if it means a steeper price on the products we buy to pursue our beloved game species, the peace of mind granted through knowing we are doing our part to help protect and preserve these species for future generations makes it a worthwhile burden to shoulder.
Hunters, anglers and trappers have always and will always continue to provide the vast majority of funding for wildlife conservation in our country. It is a responsibility we carry with every hunting license, deer rifle or box of shotgun shells purchased – whether realized or not.
I just wish more people could learn to give credit where it’s due.