The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced it would make over $1 billion collected from the long-standing excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition available for conservation efforts.

The funds, collected ever since 1937 through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program, are mandated taxes set at 11 percent of the wholesale price of long guns and ammunition, and 10 percent of each handgun. This revenue stream can only be used for the benefit of public recreation and conservation. These funds, apportioned to state wildlife agencies who must apply for them and supply matching local dollars, go to pay for programs as varied as hunter’s education and providing public shooting ranges.

The amounts available under Pittman-Robertson have been pushed into overdrive in recent years because of a spike in gun and ammunition sales. In 2014, $760 million was apportioned by the USFWS from collected taxes. This is more than twice the $371 million allocated in 2012. This year's allocation to the states amounts to $1.115 billion after the USFWS retained some $12.7 million for administrative costs. In addition, a similar tax on the fishing industry levied through the 1950 Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Act, made another $350 million available to state agencies for fish management and research this year. 

"Many Americans are unaware of the remarkable conservation impact of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program," said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams in a statement. "State wildlife agencies dedicate WSFR funds to a variety of conservation projects and programs such as hunting and fishing education, fish and wildlife management, scientific research, habitat restoration and protection, land and water rights acquisition, and hunting and boating access. Everyone benefits from these investments, which have ensured a legacy of wildlife and outdoor opportunities for all."  

Enacted during the Great Depression, Pittman-Robertson is credited with bringing numerous species back from the brink of extinction and sparking the modern hunters ed movement. This is due to the more than $14 billion funneled from the firearms industry, through the federal government, and into the various state conservation agencies over the years.

"The National Shooting Sports Foundation is incredibly proud of the role the firearm and ammunition industry play in the conservation of America’s wildlife and wild areas," said Mark Oliva, public affairs director for NSSF. "The record number of firearms sales over the past two years, the introduction of nearly 14 million first-time gun buyers, and the outsized demand for ammunition to support these recreational target shooters is literally paying dividends for America. These funds contribute to not just wildlife conservation but help to increase access to public lands that were previously inaccessible. That helps to get more Americans, more hunters and recreational shooters, to use public lands to enjoy our natural resources and grow the next generation of outdoorsmen and women."

Banner image: Duck hunting. As noted by USFWS, "Hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related recreation in the United States is estimated to contribute $122 billion to our nation’s economy annually." (Photo: Ryan Hagarty/USFWS)

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