Friday, January 27, 2012

Parting SHOT



Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade or SHOT Show in Las Vegas put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The SHOT Show is arguably the largest gun show in the world, but it’s not just guns, anything that has to do with hunting. Blinds, camo, ammunition, binoculars, boots, backpacks and lingerie…what? Yes, there is even camo night wear. And it doesn’t stop. There is a whole tactical side with bullet proof vests, purses for concealed carry, and grenade launchers. To say that I was a kid in a candy store would be a gross understatement. Throughout the show I often found myself caught up in all the hoopla that is the SHOT Show, bewildered at the sheer size of the event, and salivating at the hundreds of millions in merchandise. At one point I found myself caught staring at the Parazzi booth, coveting gorgeous Italian-made shotguns, for a price tag of $35,000. Those guns will never have the pleasure of accompanying me to the field, but I can still admire their beauty. The show covers three floors in the gigantic Sands Expo, an expanse that I couldn’t even come close to completely covering. Take the biggest sports show that you have ever been to and multiply by fifty.
During the show I attended a press conference to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the passage of the Pittman Robertson Act. Sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the press conference was held to call attention to the best story never told. In short, back in 1937 when this country was in dire economic times and the landscape was feeling the effects of the dust bowl, wildlife and waterfowl, in particular, were in trouble. Hunter conservationists and folks from the firearm industry got together to impose an excise tax on the purchase of guns and ammunition. Two Democrats, Senator Pittman of Nevada, and Congressman Robertson of Virginia, crafted language to address not only the issues of the time, but also a lasting legacy. Excise taxes collected on guns and ammunition are still put into the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund http://wsfr75.com/content/about-wsfr, which then are distributed to state fish and game agencies based on a formula that takes into account the size and population of the state. Later, excise taxes on fishing and archery equipment were added to the Fund. The concept of redirecting these taxes to benefit wildlife populations was simple: by investing in improvements to wildlife populations and public access, more people would go hunting and the sales of items that generated this tax would increase. This partnership between the hunting and shooting-sports industries, hunters and anglers, and state and federal wildlife agencies has restored many wildlife populations to unimaginable numbers and provides an incredible array of hunting opportunities.
It ain’t bad for the firearm industry either in dollars, the estimated Return On Investment to manufacturers who paid the excise tax (referred to as the “Excise Tax-Related ROI”) ranged between a low of 823% in 1976 to a high of 1,588% in 1997.
Since its inception, the Pittman-Robertson Act has generated more than $200 million for conservation, access, and hunter education right here in MT. In 2011 alone, Montana received more than $20 million. The federal funds require a 25% match, which the State does through license fees.
As I walked around the SHOT Show I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the 65,0000 people in attendance knew this important piece of history, how many knew that every gun, every piece of ammunition they bought, whether for hunting, home protection, tactical, or just plinking, went back to conservation and access? Hunters, anglers and shooters, truly put their money where there mouths are, and our contributions benefit a host of other outdoor users. That said, I couldn’t walk the aisles of the show and wonder how much money we could be generating from other parts of the industry. For example, there is no excise tax on binoculars, backpacks, or tree stands. There is no excise tax on game calls, camo, or ATV’s. You get the point. Our country is once again in tough economic times. Conservation programs at a federal level dodged the figurative bullet this last year, but still experienced drastic funding cuts. This means less money for conservation and less money for access, very similar to what we experienced back in the dirty thirties. At the same time, hunting license sales are down across the country, which means less money at a state level, especially when it comes to matching the all important Pittman-Robertson funds. Ducks Unlimited called on their supporters to “Double Up” this year, purchasing two federal duck stamps, essentially trying to make up for some of the budget shortfalls. While I obliged and bought two, I knew this wouldn’t be enough. So as I walked the aisle I thought, “Why not?” Why don’t we join together with other parts of the industry to expand what’s eligible for the Wildlife and Sports Fish Restoration Fund by a self-imposed excise tax that could generate millions, even billions of dollars for conservation and access, helping perpetuate the sports the outdoor industry depends on? Remember, this is good for the industry as well, with a Return on Investment averaging more than 1000%. And why stop there?
Conservation and restoration of fish and wildlife has almost solely rested on the shoulders of hunter anglers and shooters for 150 years. Bird watchers and backpackers enjoy our natural resources, too, kayakers and tubers use fishing access sites, too. You get the point. It’s high time that the responsibility to conserve our uniquely American landscapes, and the fish and wildlife that call them home, is shared by all that use and enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the personal contributions I have made through purchases of shotguns, rifles, and handguns, proud of those who came before us who had the forethought to tax themselves, and I’m more than willing to work with industry to expand what is eligible in regards to hunting equipment, but it’s high time others get “skin in the game.” Once you have “skin in the game” you become an active participant and the value of your contributions and appreciation is deeper. Together, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor users can, and should, unite under this funding banner.
As Theodore Roosevelt said more than 100 years ago, “Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." And later, "The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others."
Let’s celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Pittman Robertson Act by telling the story, but let’s not stop there. The best celebration we could have this year would be to expand the sources of funding for conservation and access, thus guaranteeing that Montana stays the last best place to hunt, fish, and recreate.

1 comment:

  1. Amend Brother! As you know the Assoc of Fish and Wildlife Agencies pushed to expand the base for the PR excise tax with the Teaming for Wildlife effort. It fell flat because manufactures of things like back packs and hiking boots objected. Pointing out that these products were used by school kids and not in the outdoors. The other problem was hunters that felt if non-hunters were contributing they would lose political clout, so they opposed or stayed out of the fight. We all know the final result...

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