Federal Wildlife Restoration Revenue Up, Evaluating Hunting’s “COVID Bump”

Federal Wildlife Restoration Revenue Up, Evaluating Hunting’s “COVID Bump”

For the fiscal year that ended in September, Wildlife Restoration (WR) receipts in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program were up 65.71% from the previous year at just over $1.1 billion dollars. All WR archery equipment receipts were up 72.47% from the previous year. In contrast, Sportfish Restoration receipts were down 3.6% to $715 million. Of greatest interest, fourth quarter receipts were stronger than the first quarter of FY2020. The total receipts will be used to calculate the FY 2022 grants to state fish and wildlife agencies. The recipient state wildlife agencies will match these funds with other state funds, primarily through hunting and fishing license revenues.

Authorized by Congress through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop-Breaux Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, these funds support critical state conservation and outdoor recreation projects. The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) program, which the FWS administers, has long been considered the foundation of fish and wildlife conservation in the United States.

The Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson fund or Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax, is a tax paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers on the products they produce. The excise tax is set at 11% of the wholesale price for long guns, ammunition, and archery equipment, and 10% of the wholesale price for handguns. The excise tax, paid by manufacturers and importers, applies basically to all firearms produced or imported for commercial sales, whether their purpose is for recreational shooting, hunting, or personal defense. The tax is currently administered by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in the Department of the Treasury, which turns the funds over to the FWS. The Sportfish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund receives revenues from excise taxes paid by manufacturers to the Internal Revenue Service on fishing equipment (10%), electric outboard motors (3%), motorboat and small engine fuels, import duties (ranging from 1% to 9.2%), and interest. The funds support fisheries and aquatic restoration efforts as well as boating access and ramps.

One of the primary ways that states provide the 25% matching funds for P-R projects is through revenues from hunting licenses. Hunting license sales are typically brisk at this time of year, as states have many seasons open and others yet to open. Early information suggests that the so-called “COVID bump” in license sales may continue into 2021 hunting seasons. Many states realized an increase in most forms of outdoor recreation—including hunting and fishing—in 2020 as individuals and families sought out ways to socially distance from others due to COVID-19. However, the overall increase in hunting participation was more modest in 2020 than many anticipated and we will need to finalize 2021 license sales information before making any meaningful interpretations about the long-term effect of COVID-19 on hunting participation. One increase that has been sustained over the last year is in firearms purchases. The National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®), the firearm industry trade association, surveyed firearm retailers recently and estimates that over 3.2 million people purchased a firearm for the first time during the first half of 2021.

As the world returns to a state in which people go back to work, school, and kids’ sporting events, the status quo of less leisure time and competing alternatives for leisure time have returned. Hopefully the new (or renewed) enjoyment of outdoor recreation last year will keep many of the new participants in the field this year.

November 16, 2021