Editor’s Log: The Lead Balloon - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: The Lead Balloon

On September 15, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at 18 national wildlife refuges on approximately 38,000 acres of land in California, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington state.

In the very same breath, USFWS also called out lead ammunition and fishing tackle for “negative impacts on both human health and wildlife” while explaining how they plan on evaluating their future use on Service lands and waters.

“Today’s final rule does not include any opportunities that would increase the use of lead on refuge lands and waters beyond fall 2026,” the agency said in an official press release, adding “Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge will require non-lead ammunition and tackle by fall 2026. Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Neck, Erie, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research Refuge, Rachel Carson and Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuges have begun to analyze phasing out lead ammunition and tackle and plan to propose the regulatory requirement for using non-lead ammunition by fall 2026 in the 2023-2024 annual rule.”

While USFWS noted that increasing access to public lands and waters is a central component of the Biden Administration’s approach to conservation – including efforts to conserve and protect U.S. lands and waters under the America the Beautiful initiative as directed by President Biden’s Executive Order #14008 (Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad) – some “hook & bullet” organizations that represent hunters and anglers in the United States are bristling at the thought of a lead ban.

“Despite promises from President Joe Biden that his administration would ‘follow the science,’ the USFWS offered no objective scientific evidence establishing that the use of traditional lead core ammunition poses a risk to human health or wildlife populations to support its decision to phase in a ban,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in a follow-up press release.

“It is deeply concerning that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored science and the concerns of the sportfishing industry,” said Mike Leonard, the vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “We hope that USFWS realizes the error they made in this rule and reconsiders its implementation. Anglers should be able to keep using traditional fishing tackle as they have for generations.”

As noted in a column in Outdoor Life by Dac Collins, hunters and anglers contribute a lot of money to state-led conservation efforts annually, contributing a record $1.5 billion in funding to the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program in 2021.  If hunters and anglers get priced out of their respective sports because of onerous government regulations, Collins noted that this funding source could decrease substantially.

In the waning hours of the Obama administration, USFWS enacted a full ban on lead ammo and tackle in national parks and wildlife refuges.  That move was reversed weeks later by the Trump administration when the president’s newly appointed Department of Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, made overturning the previous administration’s ruling one of his very first acts after literally riding into Washington DC on horseback.

“After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders,” Zinke wrote in his order.

In addition to the latest USFWS decision, there is also a piece of federal legislation now sitting in the U.S. Senate called the LEAD Act introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois that would effectively ban all lead ammo and tackle on all USFWS-managed lands and waters.  That bill, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in May, currently has zero Senate co-sponsors.  Zero point zero!  But still, this “lead zeppelin” should still be monitored closely.

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