Some of Georgia’s most important wildlife programs can expect another financial boost in 2014, due to the continued surge in sales of firearms and ammunition.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced the federal excise tax from the sale of guns, ammo, fishing gear and other outdoor items in 2012 generated $882.4 million – a record sum that increased 22 percent from the previous year.
Georgia’s share was $18.5 million, also an all-time record that is likely to be eclipsed again when 2013 apportionments are announced next spring.
“We are comfortable it will be a sizable increase, and we’re looking forward to the opportunities it will create,” said Ted Will, assistant chief of game management for Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.
The excise tax was created by lawmakers who passed the Pittman-Robertson act in 1937, which specified the funds would be returned to the states and earmarked for wildlife restoration and hunter education. States must provide partial matching funds.
A similar law created the Dingell-Johnson sportfishery program in 1957 to funnel excise tax revenues back to individual states.
The proceeds are shared among all 50 states – and distributed based on criteria that include land mass and the number of licenses sold.
“It’s a formula,” Will said. “The more hunting licenses we sell, the more money we receive.”
Georgia’s Pittman-Robertson funds are typically used for operation and maintenance of approximately 1 million acres in the Wildlife Management Area program, hunter education programs, technical wildlife management assistance to landowners and the public, land acquisition, research and a range safety officer program.
The state’s Dingell-Johnson funds are used for managing sport fish populations, raising freshwater fish in hatcheries and stocking them in public waters, maintaining and operating public fishing areas and building fishing piers.
One major beneficiary of Pittman-Robertson funds will be located in Statesboro, where Georgia Southern University has started work to build a world-class, state-of-the-art $5.8 million Shooting Sports Education Center on campus.
Ground was broken in November for the 30,000 square foot facility that will be open to students and the public. The facility will include a public indoor archery, firing ranges and an outdoor archery range.
The complex, whose mission is to “educate hunters and archers to be responsible shooting sports enthusiasts and promote safe firearms and bow handling,” will benefit from almost $3.3 million in Pittman-Robertson funds.
The anticipated funding increase in the coming year will help improve and maintain existing public wildlife areas and acquire new ones.
“Most of our needs we are filling right now, but there are things we haven’t been able to meet,” Will said. “We have infrastructure needs, food plots, wildlife openings and just maintaining the roads in WMAs.”
Georgia officials also have plans to acquire additional public lands, including high-priority waterfowl areas that cannot be obtained without adequate funding.
Although it is too early to tell how much additional funding Georgia might receive, one study commissioned by the Congressional Research Service concluded the political debate over gun control will play a major role in the increase.
“With reports of surges in gun sales due to current controversies over guns rights and gun-related violence, substantially more funds seem likely to be available in FY 2014,” wrote analysts Lynne Corn and Jane Gravelle.
As a result, fears that guns might be banned led more people to purchase firearms – and stock up on ammunition – which in turn creates an increase in Pittman-Robertson funds.
Even before the Sandy Hook shootings that triggered new political efforts at gun control, the revenues had been climbing steadily, Will said.
“We had seen an increase coming, even before then,” Will said. “I think, even though the momentum had already started, it’s going to continue to increase.”
It is important to remember, he added, that the amount doled out to states is based in part on the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold.