Familiarity Among Partners is the Key to Long-term, Sustainable Conservation Funding

Familiarity Among Partners is the Key to Long-term, Sustainable Conservation Funding

In 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act at the urging of the firearms manufacturing industries and America’s sportsmen and women. This Act permanently reauthorized an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition paid at the manufacturer level and dedicated it to state fish and wildlife agencies for wildlife restoration programs. In 1950, Congress passed a companion, the Dingell-Johnson Act, that provided dedicated excise tax funding from fishing equipment to fisheries restoration. Both of these funding streams have helped state fish and wildlife agencies achieve spectacular conservation successes. This uniquely American system of conservation funding depends strongly on partnerships for its continued longevity. The Wildlife Management Institute has been working to help strengthen these partnerships to ensure continued funding for agencies and support for the tax-paying manufacturers – as well as consumer understanding of our successful system of conservation funding.

Crowd at the ICAST trade show

The foundation for excise-tax based conservation funding is ultimately the anglers, boaters, hunters, and recreational shooters, all of whom purchase the products from which the tax is derived. However, this tax has long been built into the pricing structure of taxable products, to the point that most customers are at best only vaguely aware of its existence or importance to conservation. This model truly is a user-pay system whereby recreational participants contribute significantly (~$1.1 billion in excise tax per year) to conservation. It is also a public-benefit system, since the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation specifies that wildlife belongs to the public. Expanding the awareness and understanding of this conservation funding stream by participants and the general public should be a priority for everyone that benefits from or enjoys healthy wildlife, waters, and lands.

Operationally, the partners in excise-tax based conservation funding are the manufacturers that pay the tax, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages and apportions the collected tax back to the states, and the state fish and wildlife agencies that use the funding to manage and improve fish and wildlife populations and habitats; construct, acquire, and maintain public access for recreation; and implement myriad other conservation-related functions. For these three groups of partners, cooperation and understanding of the importance of excise-tax based conservation is only the beginning. Familiarity and trust, on an individual and personal level, was key to the creation of this highly-successful conservation model and will continue to be critical to its long-term viability and sustainability.

Since 2012, the Wildlife Management Institute has used Multistate Conservation Grant funding – which coincidentally comes from the excise tax – to bring the state, federal, and manufacturing partners into situations where personal relationships can be established and nurtured. As an example, for the last seven years, we have hosted an annual Fish and Wildlife Business Summit aimed at resolving issues faced by the partners. These two-day meetings of industry and agency leaders not only create a forum to iron out differences, but also create an atmosphere to foster familiarity among the participants. Using that same funding source, we also established and made available to state agency directors a database of industry leadership contacts to make it convenient for agency and industry partners to work closer together on a more local level. These two approaches are starting to pay dividends with the recent creation of state-level industry summits. This year, we hope to substantially improve the database by adding state director and state marketing contacts as well as improving the look and feel of the system.

Other opportunities for building familiarity among the partners include participation in industry trade shows like ATA, SHOT, and ICAST as well as more agency-centric regional and national-level conferences. While we frequently see a few state directors at the industry trade shows, and a few industry representatives at state agency conferences, there is still significant opportunity to “look behind the curtain” of our partners in order to better appreciate the unique challenges that each face when conducting business.

Finally, trade associations are starting to create novel ways to bring partners closer together on a more personal level. For example, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has started a Partner with a Payer initiative with the goal of getting manufacturing personnel on the ground with agencies to see how the excise tax dollars are being spent, and conversely, getting agency personnel into factories to see how the taxable products are made. This program has the potential to pay huge dividends, since nothing brings partners closer together than jointly crawling into a bear den to put a radio-collar on a sleeping bruin, or observing skilled craftsmen turn raw materials into a fine hunting firearm!

The vital importance of excise-tax based funding for fish and wildlife conservation cannot be overstated. Now more than ever, all the partners in this unique system of conservation funding must work together as a community to keep it healthy and sustainable for the next century. Becoming personally familiar with your partners through frequent and meaningful contact is the best path forward to achieve this goal.

Photo Credit
Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr
April 15, 2019