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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wildlife dividend: Guns, ammo have direct connection to conservation

Richl@Spokesman.Com (509) 459-5508

A set of numbers suggests that Barack Obama’s presidency is the best thing that’s happened to hunting since Teddy Roosevelt.

Record-breaking sales of guns and ammunition in recent years have resulted in a windfall for wildlife conservation.

The corresponding federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition also have soared to record levels – and that funding is earmarked for wildlife and hunting programs.

“The increase is not a surprise for anyone who’s tried to buy .22 shells in the past few years,” said Brad Compton, Idaho Fish and Game Department assistant Wildlife Bureau chief. “They’re sold out as soon as they hit the shelves.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will distribute nearly $1.1 billion in hunting and fishing excise tax revenues to state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies to fund fish and wildlife conservation and recreation projects.

The funding comes from two programs that have generated more than $15 billion since their inceptions:

Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration, approved by Congress in 1937, sets a 10-11 percent federal excise tax on guns, ammunition, archery and other hunting equipment; funding is earmarked for wildlife habitat, research and hunter safety and shooting programs across the nation.

Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration, approved in 1950, sets import duties on fishing tackle, recreation boats, and a portion of the gasoline fuel tax attributable to small engines and motorboats; the funds are used for fishing and boating programs.

The D-J sportfishing apportionment for 2014 totals $325.7 million, which includes $18.5 million that had been sequestered during 2013. However, the 2014 funding is $34.1 million lower than last year because of reduced domestic fishing equipment excise tax receipts, Department of Interior officials say.

Meanwhile, the P-R wildlife funding continues to shoot past previous records, a trend that started with Obama’s election in 2008.

The 2014 P-R wildlife apportionment totals $760.9 million, which would be a record even without the addition of $20 million that was sequestered last year.

The funding is distributed to the states by reimbursing up to 75 percent of the cost of each eligible project while state fish and wildlife agencies contribute a minimum of 25 percent.

The funding cannot be used for wildlife police programs, public relations or raising pheasants to release for hunting.

“The state match can come from hunting license revenue or donations by conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, or the labor provided by volunteers,” said Nate Pamplin, wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Washington has been allocated $14.4 million in P-R funds this year, up from $10.1 million last year.

Idaho has been allocated $14.6 million.

Wildlife officials from both states say they’ll be careful about the way they spend money from these record funding levels.

“We saw a 2010 spike in funding from gun sales over concerns about gun legislation among firearms enthusiasts,” Pamplin said. “But that tends to be cyclical in nature so the state doesn’t want to get far with ongoing spending obligations.

The agency avoids building programs that would require staff to be let go should the P-R funding dip, he said.

“Everything Idaho Fish and Game does in wildlife programs has some measure of federal funding,” Compton said. “P-R funding is sprinkled through our big-game aerial surveys and other monitoring and all of our habitat and lands programs.”

Pamplin called P-R grants the backbone of Washington’s wildlife programs.

“The Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, the state’s first wildlife area, was acquired 75 years ago with the first major expenditure of P-R funds,” Pamplin said, noting that agency continues to use the funding for acquiring and maintaining wildlife lands.

Programs to gain more hunting access to private lands are priorities this year as well as research and management of moose, Selkirk elk, mule deer and other projects, Pamplin said.

“We’re also looking into providing shooting ranges. Not just a wide spot off the road, but designated areas, with covered pavilions and benches like the one in Methow Wildlife Area, which was built with P-R funds and is very popular.”

Compton said Idaho’s share the 2010 P-R funding spurt “helped fund sharptail grouse work we desperately wanted to do, as well as mule deer work that had been sitting on the table waiting for funding.”

This year’s funding increase will help Idaho maintain wolf management as endangered species funding is drying up.

Idaho also will tap federal funds this year to build a state wildlife health lab near Boise.

“We’ve needed a replacement for years,” Compton said. “We’re pretty excited to finally get up to date with a facility that will help us deal with wildlife diseases present and future.”