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The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, most often referred to as the Pittman–Robertson Act for its sponsors, Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson, was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1937 and became effective on July 1 of the following year. It has been amended many times with several of the major ones taking place during the 1970s and the most recent taking place in 2000.
Prior to the creation of the Pittman–Robertson Act, 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.
The Pittman–Robertson Act 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.
These 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, for whatever reason, any of the federal money does not get spent, after two years that money is then reallocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
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 also 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.
This piece of 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 that was updated in January 2010, over two billion dollars 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 Galliformes 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 sector of the economy by creating jobs in areas where people tend to visit for hunting or aesthetic reasons.
One source shows hunters spending around ten billion dollars a year on everything they need for their hunting trips. A different source found that hunters spend between 2.8 and 5.2 billion dollars 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 three and a half million dollars 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. This one was titled the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act. As with its wildlife counterpart, the name of this act is generally shortened by reducing it to the names of those who sponsored it, and so it is generally referred to as the Dingell–Johnson Act.
In 2000, when evidence surfaced that the Pittman-Robertson Act sportsman`s conservation trust funds were being mismanaged, NRA board member and sportsman, U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act. The passed the House 423-2 and became law on Nov. 1, 2000 and defines in what manner the monies can be spent.
For a comprehensive list of taxable items, see Appendix A (pages 73–74) of "Financial Returns to Industry from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program."
For more detailed information about the recovery of certain species since 1937, see Appendices E and F (pages 80–86) of "Financial Returns to Industry from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program."
For more details about the economics of the Pittman–Robertson Act, read "Financial Returns to Industry from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program" in more depth.
For a chart showing the amount of money apportioned to each state for the 2012 fiscal year, see the U.S. Department of the Interior's Preliminary Certificate of Apportionment.
For more detailed information about how much P–R money your state receives and what it is used for, contact your state's fish and game department. Some departments post this information publicly on the internet. Those who don't will at least have contact information on their websites.