How hunters help wildlife; the Pittman-Robertson Act

Jim Freeman In The Open

December 7, 2013

Nobody enjoys paying taxes, but most of us can agree there are many things we wouldn’t have in our communities without them; things like emergency services, parks, schools and perhaps even safe food and drink. My intention here isn’t necessarily to defend taxes, but to point out at least one tax that affects pretty much anyone who loves wildlife, either to hunt or just to enjoy.

In hunter education, one of the topics we discuss is “Who pays for habitat restoration, the acquisition of land for public hunting and trapping, wildlife restoration and educational programs including hunter education?”

The answer of course is hunters themselves through the purchase of licenses and tags, and – through two federal laws – by buying firearms, ammunition, archery and fishing equipment.

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act for its sponsors Nevada Sen. Key Pittman and Virginia Rep. Absalom Willis Robertson, or simply the P-R Act, was signed into law by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt. The law, which was requested by sportsmen’s groups, enacted an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition, and later on archery equipment, with the money administered by the Department of the Interior and distributed to the states based on the geographical size of the state and the number of licensed hunters.

P-R money is used to buy, develop, maintain and operate wildlife management areas, for surveys and research to restore wildlife, and to fund hunter education programs.

By some estimates over $5.5 billion has been raised through the Pittman-Robertson Act. The P-R Act coffers are running pretty full these days, ironically because of fears the Obama administration will further restrict the rights of gun owners. Firearms and ammunition have been flying off the shelves since 2008, benefitting the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, and almost directly benefitting wildlife lovers and sportsmen.

States can apply for reimbursement through the PR Act for up to 75 percent of the cost of approved wildlife-related projects while they provide the remaining 25 percent, usually raised through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. That connection between state license fees and reimbursement through the Pittman-Robertson Act is very important, and it is why I always tell my students that it is the hunter who really supports wildlife in this country.

The Pittman-Robertson Act is a perfect example of a program that helps both the hunter, and the hunted and even benefits non-hunters and others who enjoy wildlife, as well as helping non-game species like songbirds and endangered mammals. Species like the whitetail deer, wild turkey and migratory waterfowl may have never recovered from near extinction or extirpation without these acts and without sportsmen willing to fund them. Most of the land purchased using PR money is available for all of the public to use for backpacking, bird watching and other purposes.

The legislation was so effective that a similarly modeled law was enacted in the 1950s to benefit fish. The Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act (or Dingell-Johnson Act) included an excise tax on fishing equipment to promote fishing and improve fish populations. The Wildlife and Sports Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act in 2000 further clarified what P-R dollars can be used for, and later revisions included the addition of archery supplies, bows and crossbows to the P-R Act.

Any time someone takes a hunter or trapper education course, or participates in a Passport to Fishing event, they are benefitting from P-R money. In Ohio, P-R money is also used to fund the popular National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).

So the next time someone asks what you do to support wildlife conservation, tell them you buy hunting and fishing licenses and sporting equipment.

Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and a long-time contributor to the Sunday Times-Sentinel. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at