Obama USFWS lead order is put on hold

Pittsburgh — A recently issued federal order banning the use of lead bullets and fishing tackle on federal lands is currently on hold, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cites the change of administration in Washington for the delay in implementation.

Former President Barack Obama issued the directive in his final days in the White House, but it now is under review, according to Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Laury Parramore, who indicated that all national orders have the same status. “(The lead ban) has not been singled out,” she said. “The new administration is evaluating the order in all its implications.”

Implementation of Fish and Wildlife Service Director’s Order No. 219 – handed down by Obama on Jan. 19, a day before he left office – is slated to occur gradually over the next five years, but Parramore said she had no idea when that would begin.

Conservation groups have pushed for the lead ban for years, claiming lead shot and sinkers poison scavenging animals, such as American bald eagles, while gun-rights groups, including the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have battled the ban, claiming it is a back-door slam against gun ownership.

“We had an administration that our community feels was anti-hunting, not just anti-lead, and listened to more extreme groups advocating a ban not just on this but on the time-honored tradition of hunting,” said Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry.

“If you look at groups like the Center for Biodiversity, you will find an anti-hunting bias at the core, and a lead ban is an attempt by those groups to walk that forward.”

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents entities such as the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, also decried the ban, with association President Nick Wiley claiming to have been blindsided by the Obama directive.

The order, he said, was “a breach of trust and deeply disappointing given that it was a complete surprise and there was no current dialogue or input from state fish and wildlife agencies prior to issuance.”

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway expressed concern about the sweeping nature of the order, and said individual states – not the federal government – should determine whether they have a lead-contamination problem.

“This isn’t a national issue. It’s a local-specific issue, to be taken care of like it was in Maine, where loons were ingesting split-shot and sinkers in places being intensively hunted. That’s the strategy that needs to occur.”

Maine now bans lead sinkers and jigs, and California, citing impacts on condors, is rolling out a ban on lead ammunition.

Pennsylvania, at least from a fisheries perspective, has no reason to follow suit, Arway said.

“We’ve worked with DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) and the (state) health department in collecting fish from waters around the state where we believe they may have elevated concentrations of contaminants, and we never found levels of concern for lead,” he said, noting that similar samplings of waterfowl in select areas also indicates there’s no lead problem.

Studies do show a frequent incidence of lead contamination in bald eagles in Pennsylvania, but the Pennsylvania Game Commission hasn’t yet taken a position on the use of lead shot on public lands, according to commission spokesman Travis Lau, who said his agency is unprepared to source the problem to lead ammo and tackle.

Organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy say there is plenty of proof that traditional bullets and shotgun pellets poison not just eagles but countless other birds, including hawks, vultures, loons, and condors, whether they consume ammunition fragments and shotgun pellets when scavenging on carrion, or mistake spent shot for seed in fields.

Banning lead tackle and ammo is a logical next step in the decades-old federal ban on lead in paint, toys, gasoline and furniture, the Conservancy said.

The National Audubon Society was instrumental in getting the lead ban implemented in Maine, and the Center for Biological Diversity is working on a lead ban in Arizona.

The Center tried unsuccessfully, first through a petition and ultimately through a lawsuit, to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban lead in all states. But the effort was not an assault on Second Amendment rights, and has been misconstrued as such only by the gun lobby, according to the Center’s environmental health legal director, attorney Jonathan Evans, who notes that 57 percent of the public supports the use of “green” ammo.

“The decision to reduce littering with toxic ammunition and fishing tackle on our public lands will do nothing to change gun ownership or hunting,” he said. “When there are safer cost-effective options, why choose one that poisons bald eagles, animals and hunters themselves?”

With the debate over “green ammo” unlikely to go away, the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Bazinet said his group is open to a dialogue on the subject, but said any effort to ban lead should follow a process that includes expert testimony and a public comment period.

It is an opinion shared by at least one outdoorsman, Gary Schmeideke, of Butler, who expressed similar concerns in a recent letter to Pennsylvania Outdoor News.

In a subsequent interview, Schmeideke said the directive smacked of government over-reach. “I’m no expert on lead pollution, but on the political side, I think Obama got away with a lot of laws without input and debate,” he said. “The lead ban was Obama giving us the finger on his way out.”

While he said he is okay with the existing federal ban on lead in waterfowl-hunting areas like Pymatuning Reservoir, ”an across the board ban is too far, too fast.”

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