Lead Ban Chronicles – Federal Ban On Lead Ammo?

January 23, 2017

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see any particularly “interesting” action in regards to lead ammo here at the changing of the guard.  I as much as said so in a recent post.  Isn’t that how it works, though?  Say it’s sunny out, and it starts to rain.

Dan Ashe, outgoing Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, signed a Director’s Order setting the stage for a ban on lead ammunition on all of the lands managed by that organization.  The order sets USFWS policy to: Require the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to the fullest extent practicable for all activities on Service lands, waters, and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement or health and safety uses, as provided for in policy.  It also calls for the USFWS to work with state fish and wildlife agencies to implement the policy.

As you might imagine, the news has made a splash, particularly in the ever-growing circle of folks who don’t read beyond the headlines (and, perhaps, by those who like to manipulate that demographic).  I’ve already seen email “alerts” from various organizations decrying, “Obama’s ban of all lead ammo on all federal lands!”

This policy change is not quite so broad, though, and it takes only a few minutes to read the actual directive.  As written, this ruling primarily affects only the National Wildlife Refuges (lands managed by the USFWS).  That will certainly impact a fair number of hunters, but we need to be clear that it does not directly apply to any lands managed by other agencies or organizations, such as the US Forest Service or the BLM.  National Forests, wilderness areas, and such are not affected.

That’s not to say that nothing here is objectionable.  The language of the directive is pretty general, particularly in laying out the justifications for the lead ban.  It states that, “Exposure to lead ammunition and fishing tackle has resulted in harmful effects to fish and wildlife species.

I have a problem with over-broad statements like this, because I believe it’s disingenuous and misleading.  It seems lazy, at best, not to be specific about what species are being impacted, and to what extent the problem exists that would justify the ban.  Truthfully, the harmful effects have only been specifically identified in some birds.  There’s simply no evidence that any mammals have shown toxic effects from scavenging lead-killed carrion.  And maybe I’m wrong (this is an aspect of the issue I haven’t researched), but I don’t know of any fish that are being poisoned by spent ammo or lost fishing sinkers.

There’s plenty of suspicion about the timing of the pronouncement as well, coming in the very last days of the Obama administration.  The suspicion is compounded by the fact that the USFWS apparently never consulted with the state agencies who manage these lands.  Really, though, this conversation has been ongoing for quite some time.  I figure that Ashe had one last chance to do this without having to deal with the guaranteed firestorm it would generate, so he made his play.  Was that a crappy move?  Sure, but unfortunately for Ashe, the pronouncement offers several openings for opponents to weaken or kill the act outright.  To begin with, the order requires collaboration with state agencies to implement restrictions.  If the state agencies are unwilling to cooperate, the Order appears to be hamstrung.  Then there’s the final section in the Order itself, which states that, if the order isn’t amended, superseded, or revoked by July 31, 2018, the provisions of the Order will terminate.  Like so many other things, good and bad in Washington, it’s possible that this order will molder on the desk and never make it into action.  Finally, of course, the incoming Director can simply revoke it right out of the box.  That all remains to be seen.  I wouldn’t place a big bet, but my sense is that this Order is going to be DOA.

So, to quickly summarize what I think are the salient points:

  • Lead is NOT banned on ALL federal lands.
  • If the Order is implemented, lead ammo and fishing tackle will be banned on National Wildlife Refuges and any other lands managed by the USFWS.
  • Don’t panic.
  • (I would add to always carry your towel, but that may be a little too esoteric.)

So, unwad your undergarments for now, but pay attention.

And here’s my once-typical disclaimer, that while I am opposed to an outright, general ban on lead ammo, I do think switching voluntarily is a good thing to do… maybe even the “right” thing to do.  It’s not an option for everybody, but it’s becoming more and more viable for more of us.





6 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – Federal Ban On Lead Ammo?”

  1. Lead Ban Chronicles – Federal Ban On Lead Ammo? | on January 23rd, 2017 20:27

    […] Lead Ban Chronicles – Federal Ban On Lead Ammo? […]

  2. Steve on January 27th, 2017 23:53

    That’s a great summery of this so called lead ban. Like you I to have seen several posts dramatizing the headline.
    I don’t really have an issue with lead bullets. Maybe using non toxic shot on WMA is a good thing because the game and use of shot is so condensed but like you said the evidence of lead poisoning directly related to lead bullets or weights has a very weak link. Even the California Condor lead poisoning ended up not coming from lead bullets.
    If a alternative comes out that is better for the environment and does just as good with minimal price increase that would be OK by me though.

  3. Phillip on February 4th, 2017 08:49

    Thanks, Steve.

    I think I’d be remiss not to respond. Some of the links between lead ammo and toxicity in scavenger birds are pretty conclusive. I think we do ourselves and the discussion a disservice by continuing to deny any connection. For example, while I agree that some condors may be getting lead from other sources, you’d have to be intentionally blind to argue that they don’t also get it from eating lead-killed carrion.

    On the other hand, the evidence doesn’t support the argument that lead ammo presents an existential threat to most other species. The ban simply isn’t warranted. But, neither is panic-mongering headlines.

  4. robb on March 5th, 2017 21:47

    Well that didn’t last long.

  5. Phillip on March 6th, 2017 06:06

    Nope, it sure didn’t. Not much surprise there, though.

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