What Is the Pittman-Robertson Act?

The crucial role of PR funds in wildlife conservation

Hunting firearms and ammunition fund wildlife restoration.
Hunting firearms and ammunition fund wildlife restoration. Hannah Dewey/Aurora/Getty Images

The early part of the 20th century was a low point for many wildlife species in North America. Market hunting had decimated shorebird and duck populations. Bison were dangerously close to extinction. Even beavers, Canada geese, whitetail deer, and wild turkeys, all common nowadays, reached very low densities. That period became a pivotal moment in conservation history, as a few conservation pioneers turned concern into action. They are responsible for several key pieces of legislation which became the first North American wildlife protection laws, including the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

On the heels of that success, in 1937 a new law was enacted to fund wildlife conservation: the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (nicknamed for its sponsors as the Pittman-Robertson Act, or PR Act). The funding mechanism is based on a tax: for every purchase of firearms and ammunition an excise tax of 11% (10% for handguns) is included in the sale price. The excise tax is also collected for the sale of bows, crossbows, and arrows.

Who Gets PR Funds?

Once collected by the federal government, a small portion of the funds go toward hunter education programs and target shooting range maintenance projects. The rest of the funds are available to individual states for wildlife restoration purposes. In order for a state to collect Pittman-Robertson funds, it must have an agency designated as responsible for wildlife management. Every state has one these days, but this caveat was originally a powerful incentive for states to get serious about taking steps toward wildlife conservation.

The amount of funds a state is allocated any given year is based on a formula: half the allocation is in proportion to the state’s total area (therefore, Texas will get more money than Rhode Island), and the other half is based on the number of hunting licenses sold that year in that state.

It is because of this fund allocation system that I often encourage non-hunters to purchase a hunting license. Not only do the proceeds of the license sale go to a state agency working hard to manage our natural resources, but your license will help funnel more money from the federal government into your own state and assist in protecting biodiversity.

What Are PR Funds Used For?

The PR Act allowed the distribution of $760.9 million for the purpose of wildlife restoration in 2014. Since its inception, the Act generated over $8 billion in revenue. In addition to building shooting ranges and providing hunter education, these monies have been used by state agencies to purchase millions of acres of wildlife habitat, conduct habitat restoration projects, and hire wildlife scientists. It is not just game species and hunters who benefit from PR funds, as projects are often focused on non-game species. Plus, most of the visitors of protected state lands come for non-hunting activities like hiking, canoeing, and birding.  

The program has been so successful that a very similar one was designed for recreational fisheries and enacted in 1950: the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, which is often referred to as the Dingell-Johnson Act. Through an excise tax on fishing equipment and motorboats, in 2014 the Dingell-Johnson Act led to the redistribution of $325 million in funding to restore fish habitat.


The Wildlife Society. Policy Briefs: Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.

United States Department of the Interior. Press Release, 3/25/2014.

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