The law that is broadly and affectionately known as PR ironically doesn’t allow state wildlife agencies to market hunting to a new generation of license buyers—the sportsmen and women we desperately need to keep funding conservation
By now, you probably know that every time you buy a hunting or fishing license and certain gear, you’re paying into a hugely successful system of conservation in America—where those of us who enjoy and take something from our natural resources also give back to fish and wildlife. You’re probably even aware of the two laws that made this happen: the Pittman-Robertson Act for hunting-related spending and the Dingell-Johnson Act for fishing-related spending.
But there’s a major difference between these policies that has become glaring as fishing participation has crept back up and hunting participation has taken a steep nosedive.
Between 2011 and 2016, the number of hunters declined by 16 percent. Hunters spend fewer days afield and less money on equipment on average than they used to. In that same time period, 2.7 million more Americans started fishing, and spending on fishing equipment increased by more than 36 percent.
This could be because about $12 million in funds created by the Dingell-Johnson Act annually go toward national efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) anglers. Meanwhile, no such provision is made in Pittman-Robertson.
Besides the next generation of sportsmen and women, state wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting and fishing participation declines, because many of these conservation-focused departments depend entirely on P-R and D-J dollars. But, as the laws are written, even a state department of natural resources with an excellent apprentice hunter program can’t so much as print up a poster to advertise it using P-R funding.
The ability to communicate with and educate the public about hunting is so much more important today than it was in the 1930s when this bill was written. At that time, more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how. This just isn’t the case anymore.
The Bottom Line
It’s time to modernize Pittman-Robertson and allocate just a small portion of its funds to R3 activities—the return on investment is likely to be millions of more active and engaged outdoorspeople paying into a conservation model that supports some of America’s greatest traditions. Failing to do so could create a conservation funding crisis like we’ve never seen before.
Legislation called Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act (H.R. 877) has been reintroduced this Congress and debated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier this year. After the August recess, we need to move this bill forward without delay and before we lose lawmakers’ attention to the chaos that comes with an election year.
Have you seen state agency efforts to attract and educate new hunters that deserve more of a PR spotlight? Tell us in the comments.