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Conservationists Oppose Biden Admin’s Lean Ban on Public Lands

With the Biden administration prohibiting lead ammunition and tackle usage on 18 newly-opened U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lands, conservation groups vow to fight back.

Tying public lands openings to future lead bans is already fomenting distrust between conservation stakeholders and this administration. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms and ammunition trade association, is opposing the rule consistent with their longstanding position to fight perennial lead bans.

“It was not a surprise,” Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said. “There have been efforts made in the past by previous administrations — by special interest groups — to limit the use of traditional ammunition on public lands.”

Oliva continued, “The finalization of the rule was a little bit of a surprise on the timing, but we expected that it was going to be coming down. We didn’t expect that the administration would be deviating from their line of serving the interests of special interest anti-hunting groups that are working to limit the ability for you to use traditional lead ammunition.”

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA), a trade association protecting and promoting recreational fishing in the U.S., has similarly opposed lead bans given its ubiquitous nature and limited scientific basis available to justify bans. 

“Lead is used in a lot of different applications for fishing,” remarked Mike Leonard, ASA’s vice president of governmental affairs. “People don’t realize there’s components in your reels. There’s ballast and lures that have pieces and whatnot. That’s generally not what policymakers are talking about when they talk about lead bans. Although, sometimes, language is working in a way that’s big enough where you’re not sure if even those very minor forms are being implicated here.” 

Leonard noted lead dominates the fishing tackle market because there are no “viable alternatives that have that combination of affordability, availability and density” as lead. 

He added that individual anglers—not the federal government—should decide what fishing tackle is suitable for their angling pursuits. 

Oliva also pointed out that Americans have safely used lead ammunition – even with available lead alternatives – since before our nation’s founding. 

“There may be a lot of hunters who choose to use alternative ammunition—particularly copper. Copper tends to be probably one of the more popular alternative ammunition for rifle hunting. But that choice should be left to the individual,” he explained. “We’ve been hunting animals here in North America for well over 400 years with lead ammunition. There has been no recorded case of any hunter suffering lead poisoning due to ingestion of lead, ammunition or any kind of fragments of lead.”

What prompted the lead ban? Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization that abuses the Equal Access to Justice Act to undermine environmental reforms, forced USFWS to adopt this misguided rule change this spring.

I explained in my recent Townhall column, writing, “The Biden U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) entered into a “sue and settle” agreement with Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation foe, to repeal a 2020 decision opening two million acres across national wildlife refuges (NWR) and national fish hatcheries to new hunting and fishing opportunities. They cited lead ammunition and tackle usage as a reason for scaling back openings. After settling with the group, the USFWS soon announced a proposal to ban lead tackle and ammo use on some NWR public lands in June.” 

In response, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the Protecting Access for Hunters and Anglers Act to limit the damage incurred by the update. As of this writing, the bill has 22 Senate co-sponsors.

If passed, this bill will require the USFWS, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to not restrict lead usage unless the science is there. Much to the Biden administration’s chagrin, available data suggests lead fragment usage dangers are miniscule and non-life threatening at the present time.

“Sportsmen are the original conservationists and play an important role in wildlife management—the last thing we should do is limit their access to public lands by implementing a blanket-ban on traditional ammo and tackle. Not only would this affect our state agencies’ revenue but it’s also unfair to sportsmen who can’t access or afford lead alternatives and depend on hunting and fishing,” Daines said in a press release. 

Both Oliva and Leonard said their organizations are supportive of Daines’ bill. 

“We have an Action Center,” Leonard said. “It’s our angler advocacy online platform. We have an action center there where in a few clicks, you can contact your congressional delegation and flag your support for this legislation that Senator Danes has introduced.” 

NSSF, Oliva noted, also has a Legislative Action Center where hunters and gun owners can contact lawmakers to oppose lead bans and also support the Daines bill.

Since 1937, over $15 billion in conservation funding has been generated from fishing, hunting, and shooting sports activities. A historic $1.5 billion in conservation funding was distributed to all state wildlife agencies for hunter education courses, habitat restoration, wildlife conservation, and public shooting ranges last year. This achievement is worth celebrating. 

Unfortunately, these gains will, unfortunately, be diminished and short-lived if the Biden administration adopts incremental bans to the outdoor way of life. 

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