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New Bill Would Undermine the Pittman Robertson Act and the Billions it Gives to Wildlife Conservation

A Republican congressman has introduced a bill that could cripple the most successful wildlife conservation fund ever created.

New Bill Would Undermine the Pittman Robertson Act and the Billions it Gives to Wildlife Conservation

Bird hunters are concerned about the future of wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, and hunter education funding if the excise taxes on guns and ammo from the Pittman-Robertson Act (Wildlife Restoration Act) are removed by the RETRUN Act. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

For 85 years, the Pittman-Robertson Act, backed by passionate sportsmen and women, has raised billions of dollars to fund wildlife conservation and public lands—and now a republican congressman wants to do away with it.

Otherwise known as the Wildlife Restoration Act, the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R Act) was signed into law in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Pittman-Robertson Act provides funding for restoration and improvement of wildlife habitat and wildlife management research through an 11 percent federal excise tax on shotguns, rifles, ammo, archery equipment and more, as well as a 10 percent tax on handguns. In 1970, the act was amended to ensure funding for hunter education and the development/operation of public target ranges. Over the years, hunters, anglers, and shooters have contributed a total of $25.5 billion to conservation, including a record $1.5 billion in 2021 alone, according to a United States Department of Interior press release.

In recent days, Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-GA) introduced a bill titled “RETURN” (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act (HR 8167) to eliminate the Pittman-Robertson excise tax. His argument? That the excise tax on firearms and ammunition threatens Second Amendment rights. The problem? Sportsmen and women, including leading governmental groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), vehemently disagree with this motion.


What is the Pittman-Robertson Act?

In fact, hunters and shooters were the ones who initially asked Congress to create the act to help fund disappearing wildlife species in the early 1900s. The firearms and ammunition industry understood the need to fund the wildlife and lands that kept our sport alive, and what better way to do it than by sportsmen themselves contributing?

grouse hunter in orange vest standing on mountain with white english setter bird dog
For 85 years, passionate bird hunters have been proud to contribute to wildlife conservation first hand, through the excise taxes collected on shotguns and ammo. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The money garnered from the excise tax on sporting equipment from Pittman-Robertson is allocated to the states based on land area of the state in proportion to the total land area of the country, as well as based on the number of individual paid hunting license holders in the state compared to the country. To help ensure that states use the money for wildlife conservation and habitat, individual states must match Pittman-Robertson funds with $1 for every $3 received. This money typically comes from hunting license sales, which incentivize states not to divert the funds for anything except conservation and habitat.

Click Now to learn more about how bird hunters are funding conservation.

By far and large, sportsmen and women are the largest contributors to wildlife and public lands—which we are happy to be so. Outdoor enthusiasts such as backpackers, hikers, camping fanatics, mountain bikers, and others contribute to wildlife and habitat conservation on a much lower level through excises taxes. In the 1980s, a “backpack tax,” similar to Pittman-Robertson, was proposed to the outdoor community. It would tax such items as backpacks, hiking boots, and other outdoor gear to help fund the public lands so used by them. It was, and still to this day, has been turned down by equipment makers who feel they would lose sales if enacted.

New Bill, Big Problems

The RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act introduced by Clyde (GA-09) is backed by over 50 additional Republican congressmen. Clyde states in an opinion piece, that taxing firearms and ammunition (also bows and arrows) “Infringes on Americans’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights.” His RETURN bill was sparked by a recently introduced bill by Don Beyer (D-VA) that would put a 1,000 percent tax on semi-automatic weapons.

The RETURN Act would eliminate the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition. Instead, Clyde proposes to make up for the loss of revenue from Pittman-Robertson by redirecting unallocated lease revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy. Unlike Pittman-Robertson where funds are market-based, money from onshore and offshore gas revenues are not. As we are seeing now, drilling is an up-and-down market, and renewable energy is on the rise. Additionally, under the current framework ($1 to every $3), states are kept in check to ensure that they don’t divert funds—how will they be kept in check if Pittman-Robertson is overturned?

Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde
Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde's proposed "RETURN" bill would essentially eliminate the way bird hunters currently contribute to wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Congressman Andrew Clyde)

This leaves hunting, conservation, and gun rights groups up in arms against Clyde’s proposed bill. In May, a conservation support letter signed by 43 of the largest players in our industry—including the NRA, NSSF, Safari Club International, Sportsmen’s Alliance, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and more—stated that they opposed changes to the excise tax on sporting goods.

“The American System of Conservation Funding, thanks to the financial contributions of firearm, ammo, and archery equipment manufacturers, is widely recognized as the most successful wildlife conservation framework in the world,” states the letter. “Recently, it was announced that the revenue generated and distributed by this excise tax eclipsed $15 billion over the lifetime of the program. These user-supported excise taxes, combined with millions in funding generated annually through the purchase of hunting licenses and stamps, clearly demonstrates the long-standing commitment of members of the sporting-conservation community to personally invest in science-based conservation and wildlife management.”


Hunters and shooters alike do not want to see a 1,000 percent increase on semi-automatic weapons, of course. But Clyde’s RETURN Act is not sitting well with the hunting industry, either. The act would go against what sportsmen and women have proudly supported since 1937, and one they can hang their hats on. Although still in its infancy, the bill is meant to be good for gun owners, but in reality, it’s bad—very bad.

As the letter from conservation groups continues, “To that end, we are united in our shared support for the current “user pays-public benefits” system of wildlife funding. Among other things, generating all Pittman-Robertson funding from alternative sources would negatively impact our community’s unique relationship with state fish and wildlife agencies. Without the financial contributions of sportsmen and women and sporting manufacturers, the seat held at the decision-making table for hunters and recreational shooters may be lost. We respectfully request that you take these points into consideration before introducing or supporting legislation that would alter the status quo and may result in multiple unintended consequences.”

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