It’s his first day on the job and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke already signed two secretarial orders, including one overturning a ban on using lead ammunition while hunting on federal lands.
Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe put the ban on lead ammunition in place the day before President Barack Obama left office. Zinke said the policy was put in place without enough input from stakeholders.
Zinke’s order repeals the ban on lead ammunition and fish tackle on FWS lands. Under Obama, FWS had a goal of eliminating lead ammo and fish tackle from wildlife refuges by 2022.
Zinke also signed an order to expand access for recreation on federal lands. He was joined by hunting and conservation groups during his announcement Thursday.
“Over the past eight years however, hunting, and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board,” Zinke said.
“It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite,” he said. “This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community’s voice is heard.”
Environmentalists were obviously angered by Zinke’s order to repeal the lead ammunition ban. Activists say lead hurts wildlife, and lead bans have already been successfully carried out elsewhere.
“Switching to nontoxic ammunition should be a no-brainer to save the lives of thousands birds and other wildlife, prevent hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead, and protect our water,” Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Lead ammo and fish tackles can harm fish and wildlife since it’s absorbed in body issues and can be ingested. Activists point to California, which is phasing out lead bullets by 2019, as an example of workable policy.
But Zinke and others worry banning lead will contribute to hunting becoming a sport society’s elites take part in.
Lead bullets may not be environmentally-friendly, but they are much cheaper than alternatives. Copper and brass bullets are less prone to fragmenting, but they are more expensive than lead.
Most non-lead ammo is made of brass, but the material is also used to make armor-piercing bullets that can rip through body armor worn by law enforcement agents. That’s a safety concern for people and animals.
Non-lead ammunition is also harder to come by, and producers won’t be able to ramp up production without big price hikes.
When California approved a lead ammo phase out, the National Shooting Sports Foundation released a survey that found “higher ammunition prices will drive 36 percent of California hunters to stop hunting or reduce their participation.”
“In summary, prohibiting use of alternative [lead] ammunition will have significant effects on the state economy, wildlife conservation and hunters’ ability to enjoy the outdoors,” according to the survey. “These negative impacts need to be carefully considered by those responsible for the well-being of California’s residents and wildlife.”
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