The Pittman-Robinson Act is 75 years old

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration of 1937 is most often referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act for its sponsors; Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson.  The act was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1937 and became effective on July 1 of the following year. 

Prior to the creation of the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) many species of wildlife were driven to or near extinction by hunting pressure and/or habitat degradation from humans.  The Act created an excise tax that provides funds to each state to manage such animals and their habitats. Notable species that have come back from the brink since the implementation of this act include white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and wood ducks.

P-R took over a pre-existing 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition.  Instead of going into the U.S. Treasury as it had done in the past, the money is kept separate and is given to the Secretary of the Interior to distribute to the States.  The Secretary determines how much to give to each state based on a formula that takes into account both the area of the state and its number of licensed hunters. According to MA DFW Director Wayne MacCallum, because of the size of our state and the number of hunting licenses sold, Massachusetts gets the minimum amount.  However, that amount is not too shabby and since enactment in 1937, Massachusetts has received some $138 million in these funds.

States must fulfill certain requirements to use the money apportioned to them.  None of the money from their hunting license sales may be used by anyone other than the State’s fish and game department.   Plans for what to do with the money must be submitted to and approved by the Secretary of the Interior.  Acceptable options include research, surveys, management of wildlife and/or habitat and acquisition or lease of land, among other things.  Once a plan has been approved, the state must pay the full cost and is later reimbursed for up to 75% of that cost through P-R funds.  The 25% of the cost that the State must pay generally comes from its hunting license sales.  If any of the federal money does not get spent after two years, it is then reallocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.  According to MacCallum, this state has never had to reallocate.

In the 1970s, amendments created a 10% tax on handguns and their ammunition and accessories as well as an 11% tax on archery equipment.  It was mandated that half of the money from each of those new taxes must be used to educate and train hunters through the creation and maintenance of hunter safety classes and shooting/target ranges.

Perstatute, no money apportioned under this chapter to any state shall be expended until the state in question assents to the provisions of this chapter and has passed laws for the conservation of wildlife, which includes a prohibition against the diversion of license fees paid by hunters for any other purpose than the administration of said state’s fish and game department. This legislation has provided states with funding for research and projects that would have been unaffordable otherwise

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service webpage updated in January 2010, over $2 billion of federal aid has been generated through this program, which in turn means that states have kept up their 25% contributions with over 500 million dollars.  The habitat acquisition and improvement made possible by this money has allowed some species with large ranges such as American black bears, elk, cougars, and others, to expand those ranges beyond where they were found prior to the implementation of the act. Important game populations such as white-tailed deer and several game birds have also had a chance to recover and expand their populations.

The idea behind this act is that by creating more and better hunting experiences for people through habitat management and hunter education, more taxable items will be purchased, which would then provide more funding for management and improvement. The habitat improvement may also stimulate the Eco-tourism industry by creating jobs in areas where people tend to visit for hunting or aesthetic reasons. 

One source shows hunters spending around $10 billion a year on everything they need for their hunting trips.  Another source found that hunters spend between $2.8 and $5.2 billion a year on taxable merchandise. This generates between $177 and $324 million dollars a year in P-R money. Another source estimated that hunters contribute about $3.5 million a day to conservation by purchasing taxable items and hunting licenses.

The Pittman-Robertson Act was so successful that in the 1950s, a similar act was written for fish named the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act or the Dingell-Johnson Act.  *****


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