Legislation

Interior Secretary Zinke Impresses ATA’s Wisconsin Members

The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund and the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Fund helped generate the $35 million federal grant presented by Ryan Zinke on March 20th.
Photo Credit: Ryan Zinke

Author: Patrick Durkin

HORICON, Wisconsin – Four Wisconsin-based ATA members attended a check-signing ceremony March 20 in which Ryan Zinke, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, hand-delivered a nearly $35 million federal grant for the state’s conservation efforts.

The event took place at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, about 60 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Representing the ATA were Jeff Adee, president/owner of Headhunter Bowstrings in Milton, Wisconsin, and ATA Board member from 2014 to 2018; Kurt Bassuener, president of MWS Associates of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and ATA Board member from 2007 to 2015; and Joel Maxfield, brand manager for Mathews Inc., of Tomah, Wisconsin.

Also attending was ATA-member retailer Greg Kazmierski, owner of Buck Rub Outfitters in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Kazmierski is also a member of Wisconsin’s seven-citizen Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the state’s wildlife agency.

Wisconsin’s $35 million grant came from two sources of federal excise taxes. The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund generated nearly $23.1 million of the total, and the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Fund generated the remaining $11.4 million.

Archery, firearms and ammunition manufacturers pay into the Pittman-Robertson fund, which was created in 1937. To date, Pittman-Robertson funds have provided over $11 billion for the nation’s state-run conservation, hunter education, wildlife research and public-access programs. Combined, the P-R and D-J acts have provided over $20.2 billion to state conservation and recreation projects.

Zinke said the best way to increase funding for conservation programs and sportsmen’s access to public lands is to increase the nation’s hunting population. During a “media gaggle” after his speech Tuesday, Zinke said the Interior Department is committed to working with the private sector. Photo Courtesy: Ryan Zinke.

The archery industry has been paying federal excise taxes since being included in the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1972. Archery-industry manufacturers pay an 11 percent FET on bows, broadheads and most bow-mounted accessories, and a 50-cent FET on each arrow shaft sold. During the past 11 fiscal years alone – 2006 through 2016 – the archery/bowhunting industry has generated over $470 million in FET for Pittman-Robertson funding.

P-R funds cannot be used for anything in federal budgets except handling the revenues and providing oversight to states. The IRS collects the money from manufacturers and sends it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of several agencies Zinke oversees. The F&WS then distributes the money proportionately to states based on their geographical size and license-sales numbers.

Zinke chose Wisconsin as one of a handful of states to hand-deliver the federal grants, which total $1.1 billion nationwide for 2018, because it’s perennially a top hunting/fishing state. Wisconsin ranks No. 6 nationally – historically and usually annually – in grant receipts from the F&WS. Further, Wisconsin has received nearly $328.9 million in federal wildlife restoration grants since the program’s first payout in 1939.

The nearly $35 million in grants is 25 to 30 percent of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s annual fish and wildlife budget. The rest of that $100 million-plus budget comes mainly from fishing and hunting licenses and stamps.

Zinke said the best way to increase funding for conservation programs and sportsmen’s access to public lands is to increase the nation’s hunting population. During a “media gaggle” after his speech Tuesday, Zinke said the Interior Department is committed to working with the private sector. He said he wants to improve access to public lands, and replace “atrophied programs” that don’t do enough to sustain hunter and angler numbers.

“We’re looking at public-private partnerships to bring a lot of those programs back, and to get kids out there and introduce them to the legacy given to us,” Zinke said. “Last year we were very energy-centric in relighting the pilot light on American energy; made-in-America energy. Now it’s time to do a pivot and look at rebuilding our (national) park system, rebuilding our wildlife refuges … reorganizing (the Interior Department) on the basis of science, and being better stewards for the future by accounting for (entire) watersheds and wildlife corridors.”

Before posing for a photo with Adee, Maxfield and Bassuener, Secretary Zinke talked briefly with the ATA representatives about elk hunting and the industry’s business trends. Photo Courtesy: Ryan Zinke.

Before posing for a photo with Adee, Maxfield and Bassuener, Secretary Zinke talked briefly with the ATA representatives about elk hunting and the industry’s business trends. He specifically asked for an update on sales of high-end, midrange and beginners’ bows. His understanding of such industry specifics impressed the ATA contingent.

“His comments made it obvious that he’s taken the archery industry’s pulse and has a good grasp of what’s going on,” Maxfield said. “He’s obviously one of us, and shows real interest in our industry. It was great to see how much he gets it, especially when you see the size of Wisconsin’s grant allocations, and know that 11 percent of everything Mathews makes goes into that federal funding.”

Adee and Bassuener said Zinke’s speech and off-the-cuff remarks showed an awareness of outdoor issues they weren’t expecting.

“What stood out to me was Secretary Zinke’s commitment to the land and our natural resources,” Adee said. “It’s obvious he’s a hunter and outdoorsman. I didn’t hear a lot of political-speak. When he was talking about the need to reorganize the Interior Department on the basis of science, watersheds and wildlife corridors, I realized he knew what he was talking about. There isn’t a politician on the planet who mentions migration corridors, wildlife ecosystems and the ecology of entire watersheds. That caught my attention.”

Bassuener agreed. “You sense he could talk about elk and elk hunting all day,” Bassuener said. “And when he talked about the archery industry, that stuff was on the tip of his tongue. He knew all those FET numbers and Pittman-Robertson details at a level you can’t learn from a few talking points you memorize while riding over from the airport. I was very impressed with his knowledge. You know, I had plenty of work to do that day, but it was important to go there and show support from our industry. By the time I left, I was very glad I showed up for his talk.”

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