It may be hard to believe today, but in the 1930s the sighting of even one whitetail deer was a notable event. Encroachment of humans on habitat and over-hunting without regulation had caused populations of many game species to plummet rapidly. Today, however, the nationwide deer population is nearly 20 million strong.
Contrary to the belief of recently spawned animal extremist groups, hunters and sportsmen have been and continue to be the primary players in the effort to protect the game which they hunt. Conservation tactics such as carefully regulated hunting, habitat acquisition and species transplants contributed to bring populations back to healthy levels.
While the tool for hunting is usually the gun or bow, the vehicle which actually transforms money into habitat, ecological study into proven conservation tactics, and the idea of harmony between nature and society into reality is the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Who fuels this vehicle? Sportsmen.
Sponsored by Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and Congressman A. Willis Robertson of Virginia and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Sept. 2, 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act created a 10% excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. A few years later the tax became 11%.
The tens of millions of dollars generated by Pittman-Robertson each year were mandated to go back into state and local organizations to increase game populations, expand habitat and train hunters. As the money kept piling up, a repeal bill was drawn to relieve sportsmen from the financial burden of the excise tax. However, because dramatic results could be seen nationwide, sportsmen insisted on keeping the tax in place.
The generated revenues from Pittman-Robertson were placed in a special trust under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and were to be allotted to state wildlife conservation programs for wildlife restoration and to ensure the future of hunting sports. The trust was to be kept separate from the general fund, meaning the monies were not to be part of the accounted annual budget. Translated, this cuts red tape and produces positive results for wildlife when overseen by honest officials.
For years the Pittman-Robertson Act functioned soundly--generating $150 million in funds each year--and, more importantly, produced results. Numerous species including migratory birds (ducks and geese), elk, deer, antelope, wild turkey and many other species were rescued from the endangered list and are now not only surviving, but thriving. Pittman-Robertson was a rare legislative model for efficiency and a godsend for hunters and animals alike.
However, in recent years, notably during the Clinton Administration, evidence surfaced that the sportsman`s conservation trust funds were being mismanaged.
NRA board member and sportsman, U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), felt it was time to act.
Representative Young held hearings to question the authorities in charge in an effort to correct the system. Thereafter, he introduced the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act of 2000 which precisely re-defines what USFWS can spend the excise taxes on and in what manner the monies can be spent. The NRA backed bill passed the House 423-2 and became law on Nov. 1, 2000.
Today, Pittman-Robertson is back on track, supplying wildlife with vast amounts of habitat, resources and practical ecological study, while supplying hunters with game to hunt and eat, thus ensuring necessary funds never run dry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that through these special taxes and license fees, America`s sportsmen contribute $3.5 million each day to wildlife conservation.
Perhaps President Ronald Reagan stated it best at the Pittman-Robertson 50th Anniversary when he said: "Those who pay the freight are those who purchase firearms, ammunition, and, in recent years, archery equipment."