A RETURN to What Exactly?

John Bradley

By John Bradley

Most hunters and anglers understand the important role they play in conserving the habitat of the fish and wildlife they pursue. Most know the phrase “hunting is conservation” made popular by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other hunting groups over the years.

Sportsmen and women know it’s more than just the license fees they pay to hunt and fish, their role is an enduring agreement— a percentage of the cost of firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, boat fuel, and other equipment used in the field is utilized by every state in the nation to fund conservation of fish and wildlife resources. Hunters and anglers are proud of this “pay to play” system that they created and the wildlife legacy that followed.  That’s why it’s no surprise that hunters and anglers denounced recent legislation, known as the RETURN Act, which would dismantle the nation’s most successful wildlife conservation funding program that has raised billions of dollars for wildlife over the past 85 years.

In the 1930s, at a time when millions of Americans were struggling just to get by and politicians were focused on reviving economically depressed communities, the idea of restoring depleted populations of game and fish seemed like a long shot. But hunters and anglers came together to pass legislation to restore wildlife and secure their outdoor heritage. The Pittman-Robertson Act (PR Act) and, a decade later, the Dingell-Johnson Act (DJ Act), put an excise tax on sales of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment, boats, and marine fuel. This revenue is distributed to state governments for wildlife and fisheries projects, habitat management, game and fish surveys, species reintroduction, and hunter education and R3 programs. This approach to conservation was revolutionary at the time and the dedicated funding from the Acts helped to recover whitetail deer, elk, turkeys, and many more species that are abundant today.

The partisan RETURN Act, introduced by Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) and co-sponsored by 57 other House Republicans claims that the PR Act and the taxes it collects, infringes on the Second Amendment. Even though Pittman-Robertson is supported by the NRA and NSSF and the outdoor industry, the bill and its sponsors aim to gut the PR and DJ excise taxes, which last year alone provided over $1.5 billion in funding for state wildlife agencies. In addition, the RETURN Act eliminates all federal funding for game management, hunter education, and shooting range safety programs by repealing the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund. The RETURN Act guts the excise taxes on sporting equipment without replacing a funding source for fish and wildlife management. Without this funding, state game and fish agencies would no longer be able to properly manage wildlife and habitat. Wildlife would suffer and hunters and anglers would lose our outdoor heritage.

Hunters and anglers have had a long tradition of being good stewards of our nation’s lands and wildlife. For 85 years, Pittman-Robertson has generated funding to pay for the acquisition and restoration of critical wildlife habitat, and directly recovered wildlife populations. From bison and elk to turkeys and whitetails, and hundreds of non-game species that share the habitat, the PR and DJ Acts are the chief reason North America has maintained its hunting and fishing heritage. It has also helped with hunter training and recruitment and expanded opportunities for outdoor recreation. 

We need the source of conservation funding in the U.S. to be expanded, not gutted, so that all Americans contribute to the conservation of the wildlife and natural resources on which makes our nation special. Hunters and anglers should be proud of this tradition and do everything in their power to push back against the RETURN Act and any other attacks on our outdoor heritage.

John Bradley is a Dakota Edge contributing writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

RETURN Taking Aim at Our Resources. Excise taxes generated from shotguns, ammunition, fishing equipment and boating sales have helped sustain huntable populations of game, fisheries, and access to the outdoors for over 80 years. The RETURN Act would destroy that funding source and plunge us back into a century where fish and game were scarce, making hunting and angling rich men’s sports. DEO Photo by John Bradley.

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