Back in ammunition, that is. To great applause from congressmen representing states in the interior West, Zinke on Thursday – his very first day in office – signed an order reversing a last-minute Obama administration regulation that would have banned the use of lead ammunition or fishing tackle on federal lands.
The Obama order – designed to protect animals from poisoning via lead leaching into wildlife habitat – had enraged sportsmen, who noted that most ammunition contains lead and that lead-free bullets can be significantly more costly. Sportsmen and gun groups also say there is little scientific evidence that such small amounts of lead enter the eco-systems in quantities large enough to create significant harm.
Many environmentalists (naturally) beg to differ, and they cite their own statistics – as well as stories such as the one that ran in a Washington State TV newscast Thursday about a bald eagle that died from lead poisoning, presumably contracted by eating carcasses of animals killed with lead ammunition. The same story also said that humans, too, get lead poisoning the same way: “Children can also test positive for elevated lead levels in their blood when they eat meat from animals killed with lead ammunition.”
Public opinion in affected states seems to run heavily in favor of the sportsmen’s position, though, judging from the overwhelming reaction by elected officials who presumably reflect the majority will of their constituents.
The Congressional Western Caucus, for example released a statement that can only be described as exuberant, praising Zinke for reversing the order and thus allowing lead use to continue. Eight caucus members, including chairman Paul Gosar of Arizona and representatives from Utah, Texas, Missouri, California, Colorado and even Georgia joined the release – and Wyoming’s freshman representative Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, was among those who issued their own press statements of approval.
“Sportsmen and fishermen are some of our countries greatest conservationists,” said Congressman Jason Smith of Missouri. “This order [the one from Obama’s team, now reversed] only served to hinder them from participating in the recreational use of federal lands they’ve enjoyed for decades.”
The new directive that allows lead will actually be good for wildlife sustainability, added Chairman Gosar, because the efforts of sportsmen “help maintain healthy population levels of wildlife.”
Writing on Feb. 17 in The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C, however, one Dr. Nathan Donley anticipated Secretary Zinke’s directive with consternation.
“Every year in the United States, over 4,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting, resulting in the poisoning deaths of an estimated 20 million birds and other animals,” wrote Donley, a senior scientist in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Environmental Health Program.
Besides, Donley said, alternative ammunition is not too great a burden: “Waterfowl hunters nationwide have successfully used lead-free ammunition for decades ever since lead shot was phased out in 1991. In 2015 alone over 1 million hunters harvested over 13 million waterfowl with non-toxic ammunition. And hunters have been successfully using copper rounds across large stretches of California since non-lead hunting ammunition requirements went into effect in 14 state counties seven years ago.”
Yet numerous organizations that try to strike constructive balance between environmental needs and sportsmen’s privileges, while dedicating themselves to species conservation, think those warnings are overblown. Among the groups that supported Secretary Zinke’s re-leading order were Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Zinke’s order itself did not discuss the science, pro or con, but focused instead on the procedures used by the Obama administration to promulgate its anti-lead order the day before Obama left office: “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.”
At the event, Reuters reported that Zinke also offered another reason why the earlier order burdening sportsmen was a bad idea. He said that fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation activities “generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.”