Every October, Montana politicians dig out their blaze orange for photo opportunities in which they speak reverently about their love of hunting. These theatrics can hide the reality of what they actually do to support – or undermine – wildlife conservation and hunting opportunity.
One startling example is Rep. Matt Rosendale’s support for legislation to defund wildlife management. He has sponsored a bill in Congress to delete federal funding for game management by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and every other wildlife agency in the country.
Rosendale’s bill, dubbed the “Return our Constitutional Rights Act,” (H.R. 8167) would cancel the federal excise tax on firearms and repeal the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. Enacted in 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act is one of the most impactful pieces of conservation legislation in history. The law takes revenue from the federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition and allocates it to states for wildlife management. The law has been responsible for the recovery and management of our most treasured game animals, from elk in Montana to whitetail deer in the midwest and wild turkeys in the south.
Pittman-Robertson funds provide about 15 to 20 percent of FWP’s annual budget. These federal dollars are required by law to be matched with state funds, which amplifies their impact and ensures that hunters’ license dollars are spent on wildlife management. This year, FWP received about $26 million from Pittman-Robertson to support work like population surveys, habitat management, disease research, and every aspect of ensuring that Montana has abundant game.
Rosendale’s bill would end all of this work. It would defund FWP, eviscerate game management, crush hunting opportunity, and wreck local economies.
It is not a matter of opinion whether the bill repeals Pittman-Robetson. It is the plain text of the legislation. Section 2(a) of the bill repeals the federal excise tax on firearms; section 2(b) repeals the excise tax on archery equipment; section 2(c) deletes the Wildlife Restoration Fund from law.
Rosendale’s bill purports to replace funding for wildlife conservation with revenue from federal oil and gas taxes. However, the legislation caps this funding at $800 million a year, below historical levels. (The program provided $1.2 billion in 2022). More alarming, since the bill deletes the Wildlife Restoration Fund, there is literally nowhere for these dollars to go. The bill attempts to put them into a different program that cannot by law even be used for game management.
One would be hard-pressed to write legislation that would be more catastrophic for wildlife. Rosendale’s bill is such a clear and present danger that it is opposed by every hunting and wildlife conservation organization in the nation. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, the National Wildlife Federation, the Mule Deer Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, and literally hundreds of state and local wildlife and hunting groups like the Montana Wildlife Federation. The bill is so extreme that it is even opposed by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Because of H.R. 8167’s catastrophic impact and the outcry from hunters, six Members of Congress have removed their names from the bill. Despite repeated pleas from Montanans, Rosendale remains in support of it.
Montanans shouldn’t let Rosendale hide his plan to defund FWP under a blaze orange hat in a slick social media post. Every supporter of wildlife and hunting opportunity should make their views known to the Congressman, and he can show us whether he cares – or not – about what Montanans think.
Dave Chadwick has 20+ years of experience in wildlife management policy, with an emphasis on state and federal wildlife conservation funding programs.