The “Return Act” Guts Pittman-Robertson & Wildlife Conservation

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The “Return Act” Guts Pittman-Robertson & Wildlife Conservation


Hunters and conservationists throughout North America know the stories. They know about the unlikely and timely alliances that made our model of wildlife conservation the envy of the entire world. 

While unregulated market hunting nearly decimated North America’s big game species in the lead up to the 20th century, it was the forward-thinking efforts of American sportsmen and women that ultimately righted the ship and brought many of our nearly depleted game populations surging back to life. 

The narrative is wide-reaching and includes such conservation luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Lacey, George Bird Grinnell, and Aldo Leopold, just to name a few. But one of the most consequential characters in the saga that gave us the rich legacy of hunting and fishing that we still enjoy today was depression era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

In 1937, FDR—spurred on by a host of legendary conservationists working in both the private and the public sector—enacted a piece of legislation known as the Pittman-Robertson Act or the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937

This revolutionary act of Congress redirected already existing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition out of federal coffers and into the hands of the state wildlife agencies tasked with protecting and preserving America’s wildlife for the benefit of future generations. As its alternate name suggests, it restored wildlife populations that had been completely pilfered and ensured the continued existence of these species for generations to come. 

In the years since, Pittman-Robertson funds have become the lifeblood of American conservation. The money comes not just from firearm and ammo sales but also from similar taxes on archery equipment, fishing tackle, and boat fuel. And it funds the critical boots-on-ground work that keeps the animals we love to hunt on the landscape and the fish we love to pursue in the rivers and lakes they call home. 

According to the Department of the Interior, Pittman-Robertson generated nearly $1 billion in 2020 alone. The success of Pittman-Roberston and the important funding that it has produced in the 85 years since it was passed is cause for celebration, but it is also something that hunters, anglers, and conservationists around the world must fight to safeguard and protect. 


Last Wednesday, Pittman-Robertson was directly attacked by a Georgia Congressman named Andrew Clyde and 58 of his congressional colleagues. This attack took the form of an act that Clyde introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives, one that the north Georgia politician hopes will “eliminate the excise tax on firearms and ammunition” as well as archery equipment and fishing supplies. In so doing, Clyde’s bill would decimate the critical funds that make hunting and fishing possible in the United States. He says he’d make up for the staggering losses that his bill would bring about (again, $1 billion in revenue from Pittman-Robertson in 2020 alone) by pulling from the pool of federal tax revenue that comes from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Clyde, who owns two Georgia gun stores and contracts with the federal government and many state governments for the sale of guns and ammo, says the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes that keep America’s hunting and fishing heritage alive are an infringement on constitutional rights. In a recent press release about his act, which he’s calling RETURN (Repeal Excise Tax on Unalienable Rights Now) our Constitutional Rights Act, he calls Pittman-Robertson “a dangerous opportunity for the government to weaponize taxation.” 

Hunters, anglers, and conservationists beg to differ. They know that Pittman-Robertson represents one of the greatest opportunities for sound wildlife management that the world has ever seen. In an unprecedented time of economic turmoil, it brought together some of the best conservation minds in history and gave America’s wildlife a sustainable funding source that continues to thrive today. In our current era of stifling political division, it is hard to imagine a group of politicians coming together to create something so fundamentally important to the continued existence of wildlife in America as was the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937. 

But the unlikely story behind America’s wildlife recovery that so many hunters and anglers hold close to their hearts is clearly lost on Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde and his 58 Republican co-sponsors. By signing their names to this ill-advised piece of legislation, these politicians have made a clear statement: they want to see these critical conservation funds gutted—American wildlife be damned. 


If you disagree with this plan, now is the time to let your Congressman, the House Natural Resources Committee and Rep. Andrew Clyde know about it. Let them know that you won’t sit idly by as they attempt to trash the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation with this dangerous political stunt.