A group of Mississippi and national conservation groups including Wildlife Mississippi, Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, Delta Council / Delta Wildlife, Coastal Conservation Association and the Foundation for MDWFP are banding together to promote a program to create a conservation trust using a sales tax diversion from the existing sales of sporting goods.

The bill was introduced by Representative Scott Bounds and co-authored by Representatives Lamar and Miles who helped shepherd HB 1231 through the House of Representatives.

The bill will establish the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund and redirect up to $15 million of existing sales taxes on outdoor sporting goods to be dedicated to conservation efforts.  Similar programs are in effect in neighboring states such as Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

“This is one of the greatest pieces of Legislation to come before the House in my time here, maybe in the history of the state for Conservation purposes,” said Rep. Trey Lamar

The bill came out of the House by a vote of 117-2 and is headed to the Mississippi Senate for further consideration.

“We are extremely proud of HB 1231.  It is a potential Game-Changer for our conservation efforts in Mississippi.  With a vote of 117-2 in the House, we have heard from citizens across the state and we understand this is truly a ‘Heartbeat Issue,'” said Chairman of the House Wildlife Committee Rep. Bill Kinkade. “With support from our colleagues in the Senate we hope to make a tremendous impact on the future of our natural resources.”

The bill has gathered momentum from both legislators and conservation leaders in Mississippi.  Will Primos, of Primos Hunting, is a household name in the outdoor industry.  He sat down with Y’all Politics to talk about how Mississippi needs to be a factor in building and funding conservation efforts.

Part of the genesis for this bill comes from a bipartisan bill passed during the Trump Administration called the Great American Outdoors Act that uses offshore oil and gas royalties to permanently fund conservation efforts.  The act has been called “the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation.” It dedicates $900 million in funds for conservation efforts that states can draw down based on local matching funds.

Georgia’s version of the program has allowed the $20 million diversion to have a $100 million impact with funds combined from federal and philanthropic dollars in just three short years.

The Mississippi effort, like the Georgia one, would focus on the acquisition of land for trails, public hunting and clean water initiatives as well as habitat preservation. It would also aid local conservation groups and local government agencies in preserving habitat through maintenance and restoration projects.

Those supporting the effort point to the planned use of a competitive grant structure for use of these funds that would be vetted by a Trust Board under the Department of Finance and Administration appointed by both Governor Reeves and Lt. Governor Hosemann.

“The bill creates the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Fund.  It is funded by diversions from taxes collected on sporting goods here in Mississippi,” said Representative Scott Bounds. “So there are no new monies or no new taxes or fees being generated to fund the program.  The maximum the fund can have in it is $20 Million, which would be accrued over a three year period of the stated diversions”

Outdoor recreation is estimated to be an $8 billion industry in Mississippi supporting nearly 79,000 jobs and generating $620 million in local and state tax revenue according to the Outdoor Industry Association.