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Gun Sales Boost Montana Wildlife Projects
Montana received $13.8 million in wildlife grants from 2012 receipts
MISSOULA – Increased sales of guns and ammunition have resulted in more money coming into Montana through federal excise taxes that can be used for wildlife restoration and sport fishing programs, state officials say.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says Montana received $13.8 million in wildlife grants from 2012 receipts. The state also received $8.5 million from sport fish grants.

In all, the federal government distributed $882.4 million to all 50 states through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs. The agency said excise taxes on guns and ammunition was up 33 percent over the previous year.

Montana officials say gun sales have jumped amid speculation about gun control and ammunition restrictions.

"People do a lot of purchasing and buying in anticipation of Congress changing laws," Sue Daly, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks finance division administrator, told the Missoulian. "We did shift more current operations budget from state funds to federal to utilize this windfall."

The amount of money coming into the federal program has fluctuated with the political winds, said Steve Barton, information management chief for U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

"We're seeing an election-year bump," said Barton of the 2012 numbers. "It's been similar to when discussion on the Brady Bill got going (in 1993). When you start talking about restricting gun and ammo sales, we see an increase in excise tax receipts. And during these last two elections, there's been some discussion about restrictions on firearms."

From 2012 receipts, Montana ranked 11th in total amount of money received due to excise tax returns. Per person, however, Montana ranks third for wildlife funds at $13.73. Alaska was first at $29.92 per citizen and Wyoming second at $16.23 per person. The money is divided using a formula that includes the number of fish and game license holders as well as state land size. State agencies must also contribute a dollar for every three federal dollars received.

Barton said it's not clear if gun and ammunition buyers will keep purchasing or if the trend will tail off, but it doesn't appear to be so far in 2013.

"With all the discussion on gun control and ammo restrictions, we're seeing continued large increases in excise taxes," Barton said. "Where we finally end up is anybody's guess, but the first quarter's tax receipts are strong. This could be another banner year."

Montana last year used the money to cover most of the cost of the wildlife management area portion of the Fish Creek drainage south of Alberton.

State officials also use the money to pay for aerial wildlife survey, biologist field time and management of hunter access to private lands.
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