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Checking Up on Wild Bears

Firearm Industry, Hunters Fund Annual Conservation Project

Since 1937, America’s firearm industry has made conservation efforts possible around this great nation through the NSSF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Partner with a Payerprogram, I had the opportunity to witness some of those on-the-ground conservation efforts at work during a recent black bear study in western Maryland.

The goal of the Partner with a Payer initiative is to strengthen collaborations between the people who make this very successful conservation partnership work so well — manufacturers that pay excise taxes through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Acts, and state agencies that conserve wildlife and habitat and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program of the USFWS.

This Partner with a Payer event took me to Garrett County in western Maryland, where we gathered with a team from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), several members from USFWS, and Maryland-based Benelli USA. As part of the day’s outing, we took part in a bear den study and had the opportunity to see how some of these firearm industry tax dollars were being used. Two veterinarians from the Maryland Zoo were also on hand to ensure the health of the sow and cubs.

At one point, Maryland’s black bears had been on the Endangered Species List. Since then, they’ve seen a remarkable rebound, in part thanks to the firearm industry’s contributions. According to Maryland DNR, there are approximately 2,500 black bears that are located primarily in four western Maryland counties, including Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Fredrick. But bear sightings are happening in other parts of the state, too.

Industry-Supported Tax

The Federal Aid in Wildlife and Restoration Act, often referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was supported by the firearm industry and approved by Congress in 1937. The Pittman-Robertson Act levied a federal tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment at a rate of 10 percent for handguns and 11 percent for long guns, ammunition and archery equipment. The funds are collected from the manufacturer quarterly and distributed to the states on an annual basis. 

The funds benefit both hunters and non-hunters alike, supporting wildlife conservation projects, management of public hunting lands and wetlands, as well as game and non-game species. Since the inception of the Pittman-Robertson Act, firearm and ammunition manufacturers have contributed more than $14.7 billion to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund. In 2021 alone, the firearm and ammunition industry contributed more than $1.1 billion towards conservation through the taxes levied on firearms and ammunition. 

Tax Dollars at Work

The firearm industry contributions made it possible for me to witness wildlife biologists at work. From the dart gun and sedatives used to subdue the bear, to the radio collar, tracking chips and telemetry gear used to locate the bears, the funds generated by the firearm and ammunition industry continue to pay for research and management of Maryland’s strong and growing bear population.

A Maryland DNR biologist sedated the bear, and then the rest of the team jumped into action, pulling four healthy six-week-old cubs, two males and two females, from the den. From there, biological samples were pulled from the sow, including hair and blood samples, and a new radio collar was applied. The cubs were thoroughly checked out as well. They were weighed, ear-tagged and microchipped. Those cubs will stay with their mother for another two years before she mates once again. She’ll then den-up for winter and give birth to another litter of cubs.

Opportunity of a Lifetime

When the cubs came out of the den, it was important to hold them close, inside our jackets, to keep them warm. This would be the first time these cubs had ever been outside of their den.

It was certainly an opportunity of a lifetime that most of us will never forget. My colleagues and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. But more importantly, the representatives from Benelli USA had the opportunity to see where and how their excise tax dollars are being utilized. The firearm industry payments allow for healthy wildlife and wildlife habitat, among other things.

We should be proud as an industry, proud as gun owners and proud as hunters to see the positive impact we’re having on wild things and wild places. It is because of us and our cooperation with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that species such as the white-tailed deer, the Rocky Mountain elk, ducks, bears and turkeys roam the landscape, and will be there, God-willing, for future generations.–Trevor W. Santos

In addition to serving in numerous volunteer roles with Safari Club International, Trevor W. Santos is the Director of Government Relations-State Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for America’s firearm, ammunition and recreational shooting sports industry.

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