Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Act: A Major Victory for Deer and Conservation

January 7, 2020 | by National Deer Alliance

Along with celebrating the start of a new year, hunters and conservationists should also be celebrating the bipartisan introduction of the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, which was attached to a government funding bill introduced to both houses of Congress late last year. Also known as the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act, the Act provides necessary updates to the well-known Pittman-Robertson Act.

The Pittman-Robertson Act has been a perennial powerhouse in raising funds and distributing them to state wildlife agencies for wildlife restoration programs and hunter education. The Act is the primary breadwinner for state agencies with respect to management of states’ wildlife, with more than $20.2 billion allocated since the Act’s passage in 1937. Funds are raised through an 11 percent excise tax on long guns, ammunition, and archery equipment and a 10 percent excise tax on handguns. The revenue from this tax goes into the Wildlife Restoration Account administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is then apportioned to the states.

Today, a major concern surrounding the Pittman-Robertson Act is a lack of funding as a result of declining hunter numbers and decreasing expenditures on qualifying taxable purchases. From 2011 to 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that hunting participation declined by 2.2 million, bringing the total number of hunters down to just 11.5 million. Further, over the same time period hunting related expenditures were reported to have dropped nearly 30 percent.

Declining hunter numbers and decreased taxable spending has state agencies concerned about future funding and meeting wildlife management objectives. Notably, the funds administered under the Act are done so with some strings attached. Under the original Pittman-Robertson Act, funds administered under the act can be used for wildlife management, wildlife restoration projects and hunter education. These are all necessary and noble uses, but state agencies are finding that they need funds for projects and initiatives falling outside these bounds.

State wildlife agencies are working diligently to implement bold new strategies to stop the decline in hunter participation and eventually reverse current trends. The broad effort is known as R3, which is aimed at recruiting new hunters, reactivating those who stopped, and retaining current hunters. Despite this effort, a continued decline is expected without adequate support for the initiative and under the current Pittman-Robertson Act, allocated funds cannot be used to support R3 initiatives.

Fortunately, the Pittman-Robertson Modernization Act brings the beloved Pittman-Robertson Act into modern times with language that allows for more flexible state spending. If passed, Pittman-Robertson funds could be used for campaigns and initiatives to recruit new hunters, reactive those who have stopped, and retain those hunters still heading afield.

“Allowing state fish and wildlife agencies to use Pittman-Robertson funds for outreach, communication, and education of hunters and recreational target shooters, including focused efforts on the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and recreational shooters through R3 initiatives, is imperative,” Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Alliance (NDA), testified before Congress last March. “It is important to note that this legislation would not increase taxes on existing user fees. It is simply the right thing to do, and the right time to do it.”