Author: Cassie Gasaway
If you’re a manufacturer you probably know whether or not you pay federal excise taxes, but do you know where the money goes and how it affects wildlife, individuals and the archery and bowhunting industries? If not, it’s time to learn because your role in conservation is something to share and be proud of. Paying the FET also helps your business, so why not embrace it?
Let’s look at the financial “donation” and collection process, as well as some example projects that demonstrate how state agencies use the funds to benefit archers and therefore archery manufacturers. We’ll also discuss what companies and individuals can do to get more involved.
The ATA's FET Cycle documents show how your dollars contribute to archery and conservation. Photo Credit: ATA
Funding the Future of Wildlife, Wild Places
There’s no doubt ATA members are crucial in the status and success of the industry. Not only do members make products, sell products and work with customers, but they also fund state agency projects that benefit wildlife, wild places and the outdoor community.
Manufacturers pay a 10% to 11% tax on the first sale of firearms, ammunition and archery equipment thanks to the 1937 Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly called the Pittman-Robertson Act. Congress added archery equipment to the FET in 1972. The IRS collects all revenues generated by the FET and sends them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which distributes the allotments to state wildlife agencies based on their geographic size and certified hunting and fishing licenses sold.
States must use that money to buy land, conduct research, manage land and wildlife species, host educational programs and introduce people to hunting and the shooting sports. As a result, the public gets to enjoy recreational opportunities on public lands and healthy wildlife populations, and that in turn benefits the industry as newcomers buy equipment and help manage wildlife populations. This process is often referred to as the cycle of success because everyone wins.
Since the act’s 1937 inception, its funds have made 46.9 million acres of land accessible to the public, supported 776 target shooting ranges and conserved and managed over 450 bird and mammal species.
Todd Holmes, far right, talks about the NASP program with colleagues pictured above. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Game Commission
FET Funded Projects
We spoke with Todd Holmes, shooting sports outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to get an idea of how state agencies use FET funds to benefit their residents and the industry. Holmes oversees many grants and conservation projects in Pennsylvania. He also runs the state’s National Archery in the Schools Program, and works with state parks to conduct Explore Bowhunting and Explore Archery programs. Each of these efforts plays a unique part in creating archery participants and therefore ATA-member customers.
- National Archery in the Schools Program
In Pennsylvania, NASP is funded through Pittman-Robertson dollars. “Those FET dollars are creating new archers every single year in our state,” Holmes said. About 90,000 kids in fourth to 12th grade participate annually and learn how to shoot a bow in a school setting, which sets them up to potentially be an archer for life.
“A lot of those kids would never get introduced to archery if it wasn’t for that program,” Holmes said. “As an agency, we don’t care if they’re a hunter or a recreational shooter, we just want them to get involved in archery and NASP does just that.” If the students want to pursue archery or bowhunting outside of the program, it’s encouraged, and the state also offers follow-up programs using additional FET funds.
- Archery and Bowhunting Programs
Pennsylvania used P-R funds to buy 40 of the ATA’s Explore Bowhunting program curriculum kits and tried to incorporate the program in schools as a next-step program. Limited by instructors, the program could be taught just once annually, so the agency transitioned it to the Pennsylvania State Parks, a sister agency in the state.
Holmes said the state has 101 state parks with seasonal or full-time education professionals who teach curriculums throughout the year. Many of the parks also have land open to bowhunting, so transitioning the program and training staff to host day programs, clinics and summer camps using the curriculum was a no-brainer.
“That’s another use of our P-R funds that we feel is important,” Holmes said. “We try to give people all the opportunities to learn how to shoot, have a place to shoot and learn how to hunt.” The Explore program helps the agency accomplish all three goals.
- Target Ranges
Holmes said Pennsylvania has a growing population of archery hunters who would love a place to practice and prepare for the season. To provide more places to shoot safely, he proposed the state build archery ranges using FET funds. The first range was built in 2017 using concepts from the ATA’s Archery Range Guide. A year later, the state relocated and revamped a long-standing range. The state will finish two additional ranges by January and has plans to build two more next year.
Each range has multiple targets at various shooting distances out to 50 yards. The state listened to user feedback from the 2017 facility and made improvements to the design. New ranges offer covered shooting lanes, shooting benches and an updated broadhead shooting section. The state maintains the ranges and keeps access free to the public to reduce participation barriers. (Not all states allow individuals to use these ranges for free; some require a small fee.)
Other state agencies have similar projects in the works. In fact, Idaho and Wisconsin recently built archery parks and Alabama has more than 17. Wisconsin and Alabama also use the Explore curriculums, and most states have NASP and other programs to promote archery sports. Holmes said Pennsylvania’s archery license permit sales have climbed each year, likely a direct result from these efforts and programs.
Holmes is grateful for manufacturers and FET funding. “We appreciate our archery manufacturers,” he said. “P-R funds provide a large amount of income for us to do projects like this. They’re always a staple in our budget and we count on them each year.” In return, the state works to accommodate and grow the archery community, further benefiting manufacturers who pay the tax.
The program strives to strengthen relationships. Photo Credit: Partner with a Payer
Partner with a Payer
Tom Decker, wildlife biologist and USFWS lead for the Partner with a Payer program, said P-R funds are fundamental in growing the industry, sustaining wildlife populations and meeting the mission of all state fish and wildlife agencies. That’s why he works to increase the understanding between manufacturers who pay excise taxes and state agencies who use them.
The Partner with a Payer program was created from conversations between USFWS staff and industry partners who recognized many manufacturers didn’t understand why they pay FET, nor did they understand what was being achieved with the money. The national initiative was designed to strengthen partnerships and increase collaborations between state agencies and manufacturers by holding two types of events. The first is field tours, which allow manufacturers to see excise tax-funded projects that demonstrate how their contributions are being used effectively. The second is facility tours, which allow state and federal agency staff to visit industry facilities to learn about the processes manufacturers use to make products that are taxed to provide critical funding for their fieldwork.
The program is focused on explaining what a FET dollar does, not how it travels through the system, as described in the cycle of success model used above. The shift in storytelling helps everyone involved see the legacy investment industry members make in conservation.
“For decades (manufacturers) have been funding conservation,” Decker said. “That conservation work is huge and unparalleled in any other country. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to achieve in America with this funding system. They should be aware that they’re part of the equation in conserving wildlife and providing opportunities for the public to hunt and target shoot. Their role is huge. As a partnership, it’s important for each entity to know how the other contributes.”
Everyone Can Get Involved
Although manufacturers and state agencies are the most involved in the FET equation, retailers, other ATA members and individual consumers can get involved, too. Richard Zane is a USFWS fish and wildlife biologist who manages and oversees grants in 13 states. He said people can contribute to the process, even if they don’t pay excise tax dollars.
In order for states to receive federal allocations, they must pay a match of nonfederal funding. Land purchased for ranges and range construction or expansion projects require a 10% match, while all other projects require a 25% match. Most states use money generated by license sales to pay the match, but Zane said the funds don’t have to be a direct match in dollars.
“We accept a volunteer match,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in archery and we see more and more nongovernmental organizations partner with states to volunteer their time as mentors. A lot of people feel they can’t mentor because they’re not archery experts. Mentors don’t have to be experts; they just have to be willing to help others participate. These contributions help agencies start programs and provide participants with the support they need.”
Companies and individuals can also make financial donations to archery programs within their state if they can’t commit their time or resources. Visit the ATA’s “State Contacts” webpage to find contact information for state directors and coordinators who oversee various archery programs, including NASP and Explore Bowhunting, in their state. Ask for volunteer information or instructions regarding how to donate to a specific project.
Regardless of the contributions made by individuals, manufacturers or state agencies, FET funds and FET-funded efforts are vitally important to the future of conservation and our hunting heritage.
ATA members should contact Josh Gold, ATA’s senior manager of R3 and state relations, to learn more or get involved with the Partner with a Payer program. He can be reached at (507) 233-8145 or firstname.lastname@example.org.