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Our view: Don’t mess with this important outdoors funding mechanism

Don’t kill the Pittman-Robertson Act. It’s been a game-changing program that has ensured a steady and stable environment for outdoors recreationalists across the nation – the great majority of whom probably have no qualms whatsoever about taxes on their firearms and ammunition being used to ensure these opportunities.

Herald pull quoted, 7/16/22
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Eighty-five years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Pittman-Robertson Act, more commonly known as the Wildlife Restoration Act. It placed a tax on firearms and ammunition and directed the proceeds to pay for conservation efforts, including habitat development and wildlife management.

In recent years, it is generating more than $1 billion annually, including a record $1.5 billion last year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those dollars are allocated throughout all 50 states, with the purpose of enhancing recreational activities and sustaining outdoors resources.

In a press release issued in February, Fish and Wildlife Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said the program “has been foundational to wildlife and habitat conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the country.”

It might not be around much longer, if some members of Congress – including U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota – get their way.

In June, Fischbach and more than 50 other Republican cosponsors introduced a bill they’re calling RETURN, or “repealing excise on unalienable rights now.” Essentially, RETURN seeks to eliminate most federal taxes on things like guns, ammunition and boat fuel.

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The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, said the tax infringes on a key point of the Bill of Rights.

“Unquestionably, infringement exists when the government taxes those rights to limit the people’s ability to exercise them,” Clyde said in a statement. “As assaults against Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms continue to emerge, so do treacherous threats that seek to weaponize taxation in order to price this constitutional right out of the reach of average Americans.”

Clyde acknowledges that Pittman-Robertson helps fund hunter education and environmental care programs, so his proposal is to redirect unallocated lease revenue generated by energy development on federal lands toward those programs.

But why mess with it at all?

The dollars generated by the Pittman-Robertson Act are so important to Americans’ right to hunt and enjoy the outdoors that ending the act could very well erode enjoyment of hunting, restrict access and, inevitably, reduce hunter numbers throughout the nation.

We see it not only as an effort that will strangle the rights of hunters, but in the end it actually could reduce the number of firearms owners.

In 2017, Lisa Irby, of Ducks Unlimited , wrote a piece for the DU website that notes the success of Pittman-Robertson, calling it a “wildly successful program” that can be credited “for a long list of conservation victories."

Irby wrote that without revenue from programs like Pittman-Robertson, “most states would be unable to maintain programs that sustain healthy populations of fish and wildlife. They would also be unable to meet public demand for outdoor recreation or support hunter education and shooting programs.”

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Ducks Unlimited isn’t some far-left, anti-gun organization trying to limit firearms access. It’s a conservation group that understands that outdoors recreationalists need places to exercise their unalienable rights, and that sustainable resources are required to entice them outdoors in the first place.

Fischbach, who represents northwest Minnesota – where outdoors recreation is a priority for so many of her constituents – should know better.

Don’t kill the Pittman-Robertson Act. It’s been a game-changing program that has ensured a steady and stable environment for outdoors recreationalists across the nation – the great majority of whom probably have no qualms whatsoever about taxes on their firearms and ammunition being used to ensure these opportunities.

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