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Triggering a Windfall

Firearm sales could mean record wildlife funding

By: Jay Kumar, OutdoorChannel.com

The huge volume of gun, ammunition and archery sales in 2012 should mean record funding levels for many fish and game agencies, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Nearly all state game and fish agencies get their funding from two sources: license and permit sales, and the so-called Federal Aid program, which collects excise taxes on hunting, shooting and fishing gear and sends it back to the states. This program, administered by the USFWS, is hugely important for states, and this year could be even more so.

Steve Barton, chief of the USFWS Federal Aid division, told OutdoorChannel.com that this year his agency will "apportion" (meaning give away to the states according to a formula) $555.3 million for wildlife restoration. That's a record-high figure, a 15 percent increase over the previous high of $484.8 million in 2009.

The largest gain in excise tax revenue was in long guns, rifles and shotguns, "about a 60 percent increase in excise taxes over last year," Barton said. "Pistols and revolvers was 55 percent, and ammunition was 30 percent."

Archery revenue was flat compared to the prior year (2011), but in 2011 increased 22 percent relative to 2010.

Any hunters who have paid even the slightest bit of attention to the national news should know why people are buying guns and ammo – what Barton calls "an election year bump," which also occurred in 2009. He noted the 2009 fiscal year ran from October 2008 (an election year) until September 2009.

But according to Barton it's not just that.

One factor is "the general economic condition of the country," he said. "When I worked at Idaho Fish and Game we saw that during general economic downturns, we actually sold more hunting and fishing licenses. People tended to recreate close to home, so hunting and fishing were things those people picked up instead of going to Cancun or somewhere for vacation."

That fact may be reflected in the 2011 national hunting and fishing survey conducted by the USFWS, which showed a 10 percent increase in the number of hunters over 2006.

"We've also seen an increase in the level of folks who participate in the shooting sports," he said – meaning "people who like to target shoot," and "an increase in youth participation. That's been an increasing trend over a period of time."

(An interesting observation is that youth interest in archery may have been related to the popular The Hunger Games franchise, he said.)

Increasing interest in the shooting sports actually has been a longer-term trend.

"Prior to 2009, you could lay an upward trend line on all of the [excise tax] categories," Barton said, "but certainly not to extent of these two bump years. He noted that "the rate of climb on ammunition was higher than the trend lines for long guns and pistols/revolvers," which "reflects an increase in folks participating in the shooting sports."

Although all this money is ready to go out to the states, two hurdles remain. The first is the whole federal budget mess, which at this writing remains unresolved. The second is the fact that the states have to match this Federal Aid money to get it, on a $1 state to $3 federal ratio.

Barton noted that hunters and anglers can help state agencies do this by volunteering because volunteer time and labor can be valued as matching dollars.

"This is a great opportunity for states to do some tremendous one-time habitat acquisition or development," he said. "It's just a matter of coming up with the matching monies to get it done."

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