The federal aid in Wildlife Restoration Act
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2023
By James L. Cummins
Most everyone knows that wildlife conservation in Mississippi and the country is largely funded by hunters. However, based on recent efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives to dismantle these policies, it has become clear that some folks outside of our community aren’t familiar with the importance of the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Members of the Boone and Crockett Club across the country built a system of wildlife conservation funding for states that has stood, largely intact, for over 85 years. Driven by the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration program, this system works by levying a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment.
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Those funds are then matched with monies generated from the sale of hunting licenses at the state level. These funds, and those derived from the Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, make up most of the American system of conservation funding and are used to make robust investments in wildlife habitat, research, and active restoration activities. These funds make up a significant amount of dedicated revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies every year.
In the mid-1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a blue-ribbon panel on wildlife conservation to address massive declines in some of our country’s most charismatic wildlife species. Hunters were named members of this panel and were taxed with developing a solution to the problem. One recommendation of this group led to the writing and passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act, after its sponsors Senator Key Pittman of Nevada (who was born in Vicksburg) and Congressman A. Willis Robertson of Virginia.
Signed into law on Sept. 2, 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act levies an 11 percent federal excise tax on sporting arms, archery equipment, and ammunition and a 10 percent tax on handguns. Each state’s apportionment is determined by considering the total area of the state and the number of licensed hunters in that state.
Of the funds available to the states, more than 60 percent is used to buy, develop, and maintain wildlife management areas. Over 4 million acres have been purchased outright since the program began, and nearly 40 million acres are managed for wildlife under agreements with other landowners. That is an area almost the size of Mississippi and Alabama combined.
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act is a pivotal part of paying for wildlife management in this country. It is vital to conservation and promotes the health of our nation’s diverse wildlife habitat.
Without the funding, advocacy, and input from sportsmen, wild places and wild things would not exist in the health and abundance they do today that all Americans are free to enjoy. We must continue to protect our uniquely American system of conservation funding, while always seeking to improve the ways in which we pay for wildlife conservation in this country.
James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their website is www.wildlifemiss.org.