The Federal Aid and Wildlife Restoration Act, known throughout most of the hunting and shooting community as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R), was created in 1937 by congress to reverse the damages of market hunting and ensure the longevity of wild places and wildlife for future generations. Details and amendments of the act are extensive but to summarize: a 10% excise tax is levied on all firearms, handgun accessories, ammunitions and archery equipment. The funds generated are dedicated, they do not go to the U.S. Treasury but to a trust managed by the Department of the Interior. The money must be used for conservation and is divvied-up to states using a formula of land mass and population. For most state wildlife agencies, Pittman-Robertson along with the funds generated by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses is the core of operating budgets. Since inception P-R has generated over $11 billion for the maintenance and management of wild places.
Hunters and anglers fund the outdoors at the state level for the enjoyment of all. Hikers, bikers, campers, kayakers, climbers, skiers—there are no equivalent license fees and no excise taxes on these pursuits. Why does this matter?
Last week a retailer of outdoor equipment, REI, suspended all purchases of Vista Outdoors goods. Vista is the parent company for many brands you might normally see in outdoor stores including Camp Chef, Giro, Bell, Camelbak and Blackburn. Vista is also well-known in the shooting sports industry for brands such as Federal Premium Ammunition and Savage Arms.
“REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month.” (read REI’s full statement) The apparent underlying logic is that Vista Outdoors should be policing customers and fighting crime should be part of gear maker’s business model.
Corporate social responsibility is becoming a more prominent feature in business. There can be tangible and true results from such initiatives. But maybe the goals of that social responsibility need to be more closely scrutinized. Attempting profit from promoting divisiveness seems counter to the spirit of positive social change.
REI sells outdoor gear, so let’s take a look at something directly in their wheelhouse. Since 1976 REI has donated $77 million to conservation. Last year they donated $9.3 million to the outdoors. Those may sound like big numbers until held up against annual sales of $2.56 billion. This means that REI donated just one-third of 1% of sales to support the wild places from which it garners mountains of money.
In 2017 alone Vista Outdoors’ brands generated $87 million for the Federal Aid and Wildlife Restoration Act—more money in a single year than REI donated in 42 years. Hunters and target shooters are paying a premium on products in support of the outdoors. REI is profiting from shooting sports’ investment, then pointing a scolding finger with the hand opposite the one clutching cash.
Until REI and other outdoor brands begin paying their fair share in support of wild places and wildlife from which they profit, consider purchasing directly from the brands that do support the outdoors. A great place to start is 2% for Conservation—www.fishandwildlife.org—which asks businesses to contribute 1% of their gross sales and 1% of their employees’ time. REI is $16.3 million short and would need to provide 252,000 hours of time to meet this basic level of outdoor stewardship that other hunting and fishing companies are leading.
If we held REI to the same standards hunters have been held to for decades, they should be donating $256 million annually. A sizable chunk of this could be accomplished by asking members of REI’s co-op to donate the dividends they receive annually to support wild places. That could account for $194 million and might offer more sturdy footing for preaching to shooting sports manufactures.