Bill Could Threaten Wildlife Funding
HR 8167, introduced by a Georgia congressman, is being called RETURN: Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now
Hunters are proud to brag that it is they and they alone who are responsible for the dramatic comeback of America’s wildlife. Species like white-tailed deer, wild turkey and ducks, not to mention non-game species like bald eagles, thrive because of agencies and programs funded by sportsmen. Now, the mechanism that funded that dramatic comeback could be in jeopardy.
Legislation proposed by Georgia 9th District congressman Andrew Clyde, of Jackson County, and co-sponsored by 57 Republican U. S. House of Representative members, calls for a redirection of funding for the Pittman-Roberson Act. Among the 57 co-sponsors are six from Georgia: Reps. Buddy Carter (GA-1), Drew Ferguson (GA-03), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), Jody Hice (GA-10), and Barry Loudermilk (GA-11). The bill, HR 8167, is being called the RETURN (Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act.
For the past 85 years, Pittman-Roberson has been the primary funding source for managing wildlife by state wildlife agencies. It has provided more than $1.5 billion to those agencies each of the last two years. Georgia received about $24 million from that program in 2020 and again in 2021. Since the program’s inception in 1937, Georgia has received more than $360 million.
Pittman-Roberson Act is not just another federal governmental money giveaway. The Act imposes a 10% to 11% excise tax on hunting and shooting products, including firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Then, every year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributes those proceeds back to state wildlife agencies with a formula based on the number of hunting licenses sold. Pittman-Roberson funds cannot be used for state agency salaries.
“We use those funds for land acquisition, managing land for wildlife habitat, creating and renovating our archery and firearm ranges, our archery and shotgun programs in our high schools and other things,” said Ted Will, Georgia’s Director of Wildlife Resources. “A lot of good comes from those funds. It is truly the best user-funded program in the U.S. The irony is that all Georgians benefit from it.”
It is in that excise tax where Republican Representative Clyde, who owns a gun store in Athens, says he has a problem. He says the Pittman-Roberson Act infringes on Americans’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights. He said no American should be taxed on their right to bear arms.
“That is why I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition,” he has been quoted as saying.
Mike Worley, the Director and CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, are among those shocked by the legislation. He doesn’t understand its rationale.
“Congressman Clyde is saying a constitutional right shouldn’t be taxed,” he said. “My response to that is no one is taxing the right to purchase a firearm. Pittman-Roberson is a tax on a product. There is a federal tax on a lot of things we have the right to own.”
Worley says he is dismayed not only by the legislation, but by the fact it is receiving support.
“I am surprised by the fact that there are 57 co-sponsors of the bill and that all but one of Georgia’s seven-person U. S. House Republican delegation are sponsors,” he said.
He says the legislation is trying to address a problem that simply doesn’t exist.
“The firearm manufacturers I’ve talked to are absolutely not in favor of the legislation,” Worley said. “They are proud of the contributions they have made to wildlife recovery. It is a white-hat issue for them where they get to be the good guys. And I haven’t heard of anyone in conservation for it.
“I’ve never heard of anyone raise a question about it. They are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Chuck Sykes, the director of Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, is among the wildlife agency heads scrambling to educate the bill’s co-sponsors and the public about the dangers of the legislation.
“Pittman-Roberson is the most successful conservation funding model in the world,” Sykes said. “It is the best model to pay for something—ever. I believe once many of the co-sponsors of the bill understand the ramifications they will withdraw their support.
“It (removing the excise tax) may sound good, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts, it will cripple most of the wildlife management resources in the U.S.
“An excise tax is not prohibiting anyone from buying firearms and ammunition,” he said.
Clyde acknowledges that the Pittman-Roberson Act funds important programs such as wildlife management and hunter education. He says his legislation would replace the lost revenue by diverting the revenue generated by onshore and offshore energy development on federal lands. Currently, those funds go into the general fund.
“Everyone knows how unstable oil and gas is right now,” Sykes said. “We budget two years out. Oil and gas could take a dive, and we could find ourselves upside down quickly.”
Wildlife management for the past 85 years has been bankrolled by its primary users without burdening the general taxpayer, Sykes said. “Should this legislation become a reality, wildlife management would instead be bankrolled by the federal government, creating an added burden to taxpayers, many of whom have no interest in wildlife management.”
Many say the major problem with the legislation’s plan for replacing Pittman-Roberson funds is the politically charged issue of drilling for oil on federal land. They fear drilling for oil on federal land could be wiped out by the swipe of a pen by an anti-oil-drilling President, and wildlife agencies would be out of business overnight.
The National Wildlife Federation is one of many wildlife conservation organizations showing its dismay.
“We cannot more strongly denounce the (legislation) and its misguided aims to dismantle the Pittman-Robertson Act,” said Aaron Kindle, of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Pittman-Robertson Act is a universally renowned conservation success story and has helped us create the North American model for wildlife conservation that has made our nation the envy of the world. The (legislation) would undercut one of the most important ways responsible hunters and anglers have helped wildlife thrive for future generations for nearly a century. Hunters and anglers know it is vital to keep Pittman-Robertson in place, and we are ready to fight this bill tooth and nail.”
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