A hunting group is calling on Montana’s congressman to withdraw his sponsorship for a bill that would threaten wildlife management and hunters' education funding.

On Thursday, the Montana Wildlife Federation called on Rep. Matthew Rosendale to withdraw his co-sponsorship of a bill that has the main intent of removing all taxes from the sales of guns and ammunition but would also potentially gut Pittman-Robertson Act funding for state fish and wildlife agencies.

On June 22, in response to recent gun control legislation that passed Congress, Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia, introduced House Resolution 8167, which was originally cosponsored by 53 Republicans, including Rosendale. In his bill, dubbed the “RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act of 2022,” Clyde says he is eliminating all gun, ammunition and archery equipment taxes, because he says they violate the Second Amendment.

“In case my Democrat colleagues forgot, the Bill of Rights enumerates rights to which the government cannot infringe. Unquestionably, infringement exists when the government taxes those rights to limit the people's ability to exercise them,” Clyde said in a June 22 statement.

Clyde owns a gun store in Georgia called the “Clyde Armory,” so he stands to benefit from the bill, according to the hunting website Meateater.

However, the tax Clyde wants to eliminate is allocated to the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act fund, which supports state wildlife conservation and hunters education and recruitment. Between fiscal years 2016 and 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported gross Pittman-Robertson Act receipts of $3.59 billion. In 2021, the Pittman-Robertson Act brought in a record-breaking $1.5 billion.

Almost 80% of the annual revenue goes toward Wildlife Restoration grants, which are divided among the states based on a formula that includes the number of licensed sportsmen and land area in each state. That formula favors states like Montana, which received $28.4 million in fiscal year 2021, accounting for slightly more than one-quarter of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ budget. Also, select multi-state conservation projects and hunter's education each receive up to $8 million annually.

The money is critical for state wildlife agencies, especially in Montana, which has a smaller tax base but abundant wildlife. So hunters are concerned about the potential loss of funding.

“Congressman Rosendale and other co-sponsors of this legislation should be aware that they are demolishing conservation funding for state wildlife management agencies,” said Frank Szollosi, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director in a statement. “In co-sponsoring this bill, Rep. Matt Rosendale demonstrates hostility to the conservation legacy built by American hunters. We ask that he stand up for Montana hunters and immediately withdraw his support for H.R. 8167.” 

Requests for comment from Rosendale were not answered by press time.

Republicans knew their bill posed a threat to Pittman-Robertson funding, and they would be affecting some of the very gun-owners the bill claims to help. To resolve that issue, the legislation would redirect unallocated federal lease payments from onshore and offshore energy development.

However, that won’t provide the same amount of money as gun and ammunition taxes, because the bill limits the amount of lease revenue the Pittman-Robertson Fund would receive to a maximum of $800 million annually. Plus, there are already other programs dipping into federal energy lease revenues. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was recently allocated a permanent $900 million annually from offshore leases.

Finally, the bill doesn’t limit itself just to gun-related taxes. It also affects the Dingell-Johnson Act funding for state fisheries, because it reduces the taxes on outboard motors and fishing tackle boxes to 3% from 10% and limits the total tax on fishing rods to $10.

Hunters may have an uphill battle trying to get Republican sponsors to listen, because hunters are a minority. Most people own guns for other reasons so wildlife conservation tends not to be a priority for them. A 2021 study by Southwick Associates estimated that about one-quarter of all firearms and ammunition sold in 2020 were purchased for hunting.

Also, while claiming to be a hunter, Rosendale has voted against sportsmen’s interests, both at the state and federal level. A few weeks ago, he voted against the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which allocates $1.4 billion annually to fund state and tribal projects aimed at preventing extinction of at-risk species and improving wildlife habitat. In December, he opposed the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act, which would have provided $70 million for research into a disease killing deer and elk. As state auditor, he voted against opening up 20,000 acres to sportsmen in eastern Montana.

The bill has been assigned to the House Ways and Means and Natural Resources committees.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.