May 19, 2021
By Larry Keane
State wildlife agencies are facing something many haven't seen for years, even decades. They're seeing flush budgets. Excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition makers to the Wildlife Restoration Fund, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), is nearly a half-billion dollars at just halfway through the fiscal year.
That's a 64-percent increase over the same time last year, all due to more guns and ammunition being manufactured and the law-abiding citizens who purchase them. Last year, manufacturers paid in nearly $300 million in Pittman-Robertson excise taxes. That figure this year towers at $493 million.
That's going to be a big increase to wildlife and habitat conservation, increased hunter access and construction on new public gun ranges and improvements to existing ones. These figures are giving state wildlife agencies something different than what they've been fighting in years past. Budgets are healthier than they've been in years.
So far, firearm and ammunition manufacturers contributed over $13.8 billion to the Wildlife Sport Fishing Restoration Fund, also known as the Pittman-Robertson excise tax.
Outdoor Life's Alex Robinson did the math earlier this year and found an astonishing figure. Most of that money has been paid into the trust fund in just the last decade.
"American shooters and hunters have generated as many P-R dollars in the last 10 years of gun and ammo buying as they have in the previous 72 years (when not adjusting for inflation)," Robinson reported.
USFWS announced in February that $1 billion in wildlife conservation funds was being distributed to state wildlife agencies, an increase of $121 million than was distributed in 2020. Those disbursements are the funds collected through the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes on firearms and ammunition, along with similar taxes on archery equipment as well as taxes on angling equipment that benefits the Sport Fish Restoration Fund.
States are already putting that use. Washington state's legislature passed their budget that includes $2.7 million coming in from Pittman-Robertson excise taxes, paid by gun and ammunition makers. That's going to assist in tackling priority issues like Chronic Wasting Disease. The state is planning on spending almost a half million dollars for surveillance and monitoring of the disease in wild and captive cervid populations.
Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources received $32.4 million in Wildlife and Sport Fishing Restoration (WSFR) funds, including $19.6 million from Pittman-Robertson excise taxes.
Michigan's Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told media earlier this year that the increase of Pittman-Robertson funding that’s sourced to increased gun purchases and the manufacturers supporting those purchases will have ripple effects for the coming years.
"We will certainly benefit, virtually the entire nation experienced a lift in 2020," DNR spokesperson Dustin Isenhoff said.
The forecast is looking good. With a 64-percent increase in Pittman-Robertson excise taxes over the same period last year, and no immediate slowdown in firearm or ammunition purchases on the horizon, it means state wildlife agencies could be in for healthy budgets to help with healthy wildlife.