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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Tiffany, Grothman Co-Sign Bill to Cripple Conservation

When hunters share hunting’s conservation scorecard with folks who know little or nothing about it, we boast of paying for wildlife management through our license fees and federal taxes on our guns, ammo and archery gear.

We might struggle reciting details beyond the annual costs of our permits and stamps, but we know our investments don’t end there. Chief among those other sources is the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.

Since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Pittman-Robertson into law in 1937, it has generated over $15 billion to conserve wildlife, boost hunting opportunities, improve recreational shooting, and promote hunter-education training. In 2021 and again in 2022, Pittman-Robertson provided over $1.5 billion to states to build or improve shooting ranges, buy and manage wildlife habitat, and help recruit the next generation of hunters.

Wisconsin’s share of Pittman-Robertson funding totaled a record $43.7 million this year, up from $32.4 million in 2021.

Given all that conservation funding, hunters should be proud. As President Ronald Reagan said in 1987 on Pittman-Robertson’s 50th anniversary: “Those who pay the freight are those who purchase firearms, ammunition and archery equipment.”

Unfortunately, Wisconsin congressmen Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, and Glenn Grothman, R-Greenbush, don’t know their state or nation’s hunting and conservation histories. Tiffany and Grothman are working with 52 other Republicans in Congress to abolish the Pittman-Robertson Act and its secure funding of hunting, conservation and recreational shooting.

They’ve signed onto the “RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act” by Rep. Andrew Clyde, a freshman congressman from Georgia. The “RETURN” in Clyde’s bill stands for “Repealing Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now.”

Clever, eh?

Quick reminder: Rep. Clyde made himself infamous a year ago by describing Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, as differing little from everyday tourists.

To ensure no one misses the partisan nature of H.R. 8167, which has no Democrats as co-sponsors, Clyde said this in his June 22 press release:

“In case my Democrat colleagues forgot, the Bill of Rights enumerates rights to which the government cannot infringe. … (Excise taxes are) treacherous threats that seek to weaponize taxation in order to price this constitutional right out of the reach of average Americans. I firmly believe no American should be taxed on their enumerated rights, which is why I intend to stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks by eliminating the federal tax on firearms and ammunition.”

Whew. That’s a head-scratcher. The Pittman-Robertson Act is 85 years old, or 103 if you include its forerunner. Given Pittman-Robertson’s advanced age, how can Rep. Clyde “stop the Left’s tyranny in its tracks”? Did he sleep through his alarm, or read the schedule wrong?

And just who are those “lefty tyrants” who support Pittman-Robertson? Well, after being forewarned of Clyde’s intentions this spring, a coalition of conservation and manufacturing organizations sent a letter May 17 to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Ways and Means Committee. The letter publicly supported Pittman-Robertson and its “user pays-public benefits” principles.

Among the 41 so-called “lefty tyrants” signing this letter supporting “the American System of Conservation Funding” were the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Archery Trade Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Safari Club International, Boone and Crockett Club, Pope and Young Club, Pheasants Forever, Whitetails Unlimited, National Deer Alliance, National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Part of their letter reads: “We are united in our shared support for the current system of wildlife funding (through Pittman-Robertson). … Without the financial contributions of sportsmen and women and sporting manufacturers, the seat held at the decision-making table for hunters and recreational shooters may be lost.”

Dan Forster, the Archery Trade Association’s vice president and chief conservation officer, considers Pittman-Robertson an incentive-laden partnership between hunters, state wildlife agencies, and hunting/shooting manufacturers. “No partnership is perfect, but the three parties united by Pittman-Robertson have always maximized their investments in each other to benefit conservation nationwide,” Forster said.

We should also note that our hunting and manufacturing forebears — led by ammo and gunmakers — urged FDR to sign the Pittman-Robertson Act. They knew it would ensure the 11% tax on their products would go directly to conservation. With that consistent funding, hunters and wildlife agencies restored then-threatened species like elk, deer, waterfowl, wild turkeys and other wildlife.

And contrary to Clyde’s propaganda, individuals do not pay that tax directly. Manufacturers make those tax payments after selling their products to stores, distributors and other commercial buyers. Yes, manufacturers likely pass those taxes onto their customers, but record-breaking guns-and-ammo purchases prove Pittman-Robertson isn’t stifling sales.

When asked why he co-signed Clyde’s bill, Tiffany said he viewed it as “pushback against those who are trying to take away gun rights.” Tiffany said Clyde and the bill’s supporters are “sending a message” to Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat who recently wrote a bill to impose a 1,000% tax on semiautomatic firearms.

In other words, Clyde, Tiffany, Grothman and 51 of their colleagues are politicizing, weaponizing and jeopardizing the iconic Pittman-Robertson Act to fight another congressman’s gun-control fantasies. That’s more reckless than a chess player sacrificing a queen for a measly pawn.

But Clyde has other motives he’s not sharing. His June 22 press release says Pittman-Robertson “infringes on Americans’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights.” Odd, then, that Clyde’s press release never mentions his bill would also slash excise taxes in the Dingell–Johnson/Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act.

In case you’re wondering, Dingell-Johnson is fishing’s version of Pittman-Robertson. Clyde’s bill would cut Dingell-Johnson taxes on manufacturers from 10% to 3% on tackle boxes and electric trolling motors, and cap the tax at $10 on fishing rods and poles.

Hmm. Y’know, we’ll forever argue the Second Amendment’s intent, but nowhere does it say well-regulated militias need fishing rods, tackle boxes and trolling motors to ensure the security of a free state.

Tiffany and Clyde try to soften these intentional blows to hunting, fishing and conservation by saying H.R. 8167 would “backfill” lost revenues with $800 million from onshore and offshore oil and gas leases. Two big things are wrong with that: Pittman-Robertson revenues nearly doubled that total both of the past two years, and Congress could simply redirect those energy lease fees whenever its priorities change.

After all, this is the 117th Congress, and the 118th Congress will soon be on deck. Safe bet: History will not recognize either body for its stability, statesmanship, and devotion to principle and precedent.

House Bill 8167 by Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde would repeal the famous and historically effective Pittman-Robertson Act, which has helped fund America’s conservation programs for 85 years. — Patrick Durkin photo

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1 Comment

Jul 07, 2022

Well said Patrick! Hunters and Anglers have taxed themselves and have paid numerous additional fees for licenses and permits to support conservation programs nationwide. Those funds are critical for maintaining biologist, enforcement and administrative staffing and many support programs, along with a huge public lands base critical for the protection of fish and wildlife populations as well as providing its related public recreation. Removal of PR and DJ funding would be catastrophic to conservation programs nationwide. Those that would do so are woefully ignorant of conservation funding.

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