Sluggish on getting the lead out: feds again play pro-hunting politics
WASHINGTON D.C.–– The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service still isn’t getting the lead out.
And is not about to, in view that both major U.S. political parties continue to kiss the portions of hunters’ anatomy where lead continues to accumulate in regulatory posteriors.
Lead shot threatens endangered birds
Thirty-eight years after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit found that “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by allowing the hunting of migratory birds with lead shot in areas in five states,” in the case National Wildlife Federation v. Hodel, lead ammunition and fishing tackle remain scientifically recognized as the major environmental threats to many threatened, endangered, and otherwise protected species.
For example, California condors, federally protected as an endangered species since 1967, are still endangered. University of California at Santa Cruz wildlife toxicologist Myra Finkelstein in July 2021 confirmed that condor recovery has been delayed chiefly by ingesting lead from hunter-killed carrion.
Eagles & loons
Bald and golden eagles, though no longer listed as endangered species, remain protected by both the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
A U.S. Geological Survey study published in February 2022 found chronic lead poisoning in the blood, bones, livers, and feathers of more than 1,200 eagles across 38 U.S. states, from Alaska to Florida, Maine to California, afflicting 47% of the bald eagles and 46% of the golden eagles.
The misleadingly named common loon is listed as a threatened species in Michigan and New Hampshire, and was declared endangered in Vermont in 1987.
A November 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Wildlife Management reported that of 253 loons found dead from 1989 to 2012, 49% died from ingesting lead fishing tackle.
USFWS flack buried the lead
On October 27, 2023, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service buried the announcement of a new rule, adopted under legal duress, that might eventually stop the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle at a mere eight of the 401 National Wildlife Refuges and 35 Wetland Management Districts that permit hunting and fishing.
Headlined a media release from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service flack Vanessa Kauffman, “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Promotes Public Access to Hunting and Fishing.”
Added Kauffman in a subhead, “New Opportunities Announced at Three National Wildlife Refuges.”
Stated Kauffman in her first paragraph “Continuing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced today 48 new distinct hunting opportunities on approximately 3,000 acres within the National Wildlife Refuge system. Today’s announcement follows public comment and local engagement on the phase-out of lead ammunition and tackle.”
Four paragraphs down, Kauffman finally mentioned that, “The final rule publishing in the Federal Register on October 30, 2023, includes phase-outs of lead ammunition.
“Best available science”
“The best available science analyzed as part of this rulemaking demonstrates lead ammunition and tackle have negative impacts on human health and wildlife,” Kauffman acknowledged, “and those impacts are more acute for some species.”
Note that the U.S., one of the last developed nations to act against ambient lead, finally banned lead paint in 1970, 56 years after Australia took the lead on the issue. The U.S. only banned leaded gasoline in 1996.
A 2002 study by researchers from Florida State University and Duke University, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that childhood ambient lead exposure cumulatively cost Americans approximately 824 million I.Q. points.
Assuming hunters have, on average, an average I.Q., this would be equivalent to the total mental capacity of about a third of the U.S. hunting population.
“Dereliction of duty”
“In a further dereliction of duty,” Animal Wellness Action, Center for a Humane Economy, and the Animal Wellness Foundation president Wayne Pacelle fumed, “the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service leaders are not phasing out lead use on these eight refuges for three more years—with September 2026 closing in on the mid-point of the next presidential term.
“The delayed restrictions on lead,” Pacelle detailed, since Kaffman did not get around to it for another several long paragraphs, “apply to the Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Neck, Erie, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research, Rachel Carson, and Wallops Island national wildlife refuges. All except for Chincoteague will also phase out lead fishing tackle.
“There are more than 500 peer-reviewed studies showing detrimental effects on wildlife,” Pacelle continued, as a critic of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inaction on lead for more than 30 years.
“Conservation & animal welfare success story”
“In 1991,” Pacelle recalled, “acting on a proposal that spanned across the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations, the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service banned toxic lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting, producing a conservation and animal welfare success story.
“Within 10 years, researchers found significant improvements in the blood and bone lead levels in a variety of waterfowl species. The use of nontoxic shot reduced the mortality of mallards by 64% and saved approximately 1.4 million ducks in a single fall flight.
But lead shot remained in common use except in waterfowling.
“More than 130 species—including humans—are exposed to toxic lead shot, bullet fragments, fishing tackle, or prey contaminated with spent lead ammunition,” Pacelle explained, mentioning that unlike in the rest of the U.S., all 36 National Wildlife Refuges in California have prohibited use of lead ammo since 2013, in deference to state law.
Trump killed across-the-boards lead ammo phase-out
“In January 2017,” Pacelle continued, “the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued Director’s Order 219 to phase out using lead ammunition and fishing tackle by January 2022 on all 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts,” some of which do not allow hunting and/or fishing, “but the order was vitiated [watered down] by the Donald Trump Administration.
“I had to do a refresh with the 1991 rule making on no lead ammo in waterfowl hunting,” Pacelle admitted in an email to ANIMALS 24-7, “and just was amazed that it started in 1986 with the Reagan team and then was completed by the Herbert Walker Bush administration, at a point of extreme high influence of the National Rifle Association and the culture wars on guns and abortion shaping the Republican Party’s outlook.
“Timid as they can be”
“How could such a thing happen? Well it seems it was triggered, and just about mandated, by National Wildlife Federation v. Hodel, with the Federation––very surprising given its hunting roots––taking on the issue and suing the Administration.”
The National Wildlife Federation, as Pacelle observed, started out in 1936 as the national umbrella for 48 state hunting clubs, and remains dominated by hunting and fishing interests.
Currently, concluded Pacelle, “The crew at the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are as timid as they can be. At this rate of closing down refuges to lead – a rule for eight refuges, as the only act [against lead] in a four-year term, but still extending the effective date into 2026––it will be 201 years before lead ammo is banned in all of the refuges that allow hunting.”
Despite gaining “48 new distinct hunting opportunities on approximately 3,000 acres within the National Wildlife Refuge system” and despite the sluggish announced phase-out of use of lead ammunition on a mere 2% of National Wildlife Refuges, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action executive director Randy Kozuck whined that “The Biden-Harris administration is giving sportsmen a bad deal.”
The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and the Sportsman’s Alliance Foundation have petitioned as intervenors in opposition to a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Friends of Blackwater, and the Sierra Club against a 2022 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreement to withdraw plans to ban hunting with lead ammunition on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia in exchange for not allowing the refuge management to expand hunting access.
Republicans push lead ammo in Congress
The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and the Sportsman’s Alliance Foundation are also pushing a bill called the Protecting Access for Hunters & Anglers Act, introduced in the House of Representatives as HR 615, with 50 co-sponsors, and in the Senate as S. 1185, with 25 co-sponsors, which would bar the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture from “prohibiting or regulating the use of lead ammunition or tackle on federal land or water that is under the jurisdiction of such departments and made available for hunting or fishing.”
All of the co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate are Republicans.
An opposing bill, HR 5281, by U.S. Representative Ted Lieu of California, a Democrat, would ban any use of lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges, but as yet has no co-sponsors and no Senate companion bill.
Biden restores funding for hunter education & archery programs in schools
The weak U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rule pertaining to use of lead ammunition on National Wildlife Refuges followed by 21 days President Joe Biden’s signature on a bill to restore federal funding of hunter education and archery programs in public schools.
Hunter education and archery programs in public schools had briefly been defunded by the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
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