Pittman-Robertson Celebrating 75 Years of Success

Some years ago, when every hunting outing was a learning experience, a sign posted at the fenceline at a state-owned wildlife management area confused me. The sign designated the land on the other side of the fence as open to public hunting, which was good, but the last line on the sign said, “A P-R Project.“

My first thought was to wonder why the state created Public Relations projects.

Years later, some things remain the same. Every outing is still a learning experience. The more time we spend in the great outdoors, the more we come to realize how much more there is to learn.

On the other hand, I did learn that “P-R Project” wasn’t a public relations gimmick.

No, that P-R Project sign was a reminder that most of our publicly owned wildlife management areas aren’t just a happy accident. Instead, it’s a reminder of the bond among generations of hunters who have cheerfully paid Federal excise taxes on every purchase of firearms and ammunition, with the proceeds going to states to help manage wildlife and wildlife habitat.

The P-R stands for Pittman-Robertson, and the law that provides for the tax is generally called the Pittman-Robertson Act, though its official name is the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which was sponsored by Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, and Congressman Absalom W. Robertson of Virginia.

The Pittman-Robertson Act became law 75 years ago this year, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the bill into law on September 2, 1937. Over the years, the bill has been amended many times, with a significant expansion in 1970 to include handguns and handgun ammunition and archery equipment in items subject to the excise tax.

In 1950, a similar law, the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act, also commonly called the Dingell-Johnson Act, after its legislative sponsors, put an excise tax on fishing tackle to generate money for sport fishing restoration. That law was expanded in 1984 with the Wallop-Breaux Amendment, which added an excise tax to motorboat fuel and import duties on fishing tackle and boats.

All in all, the money raised through these taxes have generated billions of dollars that are passed on to states for wildlife management, including acquiring land, habitat, fisheries management, plus funding of public access facilities, such as docks, education, and so on. The money passed along to states is matched, in part, by money we spend on hunting and fishing licenses.

While we’re talking about Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson programs, we might also consider the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamps, or Duck Stamp, for short. Duck Stamps have been around since 1934 and are required for hunting migratory waterfowl. Since the beginning of the program, revenues from hunters’ purchase of Duck Stamps have been used to help purchase or lease over 5.3million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.

I suppose I could go on some rant about how us hunters and anglers raise all this money for fish and wildlife habitat that benefits all us, while others do nothing. I might do that one of these days, but for now I think it’s more important to celebrate 75 years of Pittman-Robertson and related programs and how much we hunters and anglers have done over the decades, simply by indulging our inclination to buy more stuff.

A couple weeks ago, Land Tawney, a Missoula friend and conservationist, did a commentary on Montana Public Radio on Pittman-Robertson and how much it has done, going on to suggest that perhaps the program should be broadened to extend the excise tax on other hunting equipment, such as 4-wheelers, camouflage clothing, and the like. Similarly, others have suggested that since it has been such a long time since the last increase in a cost for a federal Duck Stamp, we duck hunters should double up and buy two stamps, to help compensate for inflation, as well as declining numbers of waterfowl hunters.

Those are all ideas worth considering, but for now, let’s celebrate those 75 years, and then buy more stuff.