Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
On Jan. 19, outgoing Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe signed Director's Order No. 219, requiring the use of non-lead ammunition on all property owned or managed by the service. This includes all federal refuges. Although lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting since the 1980s, non-lead rifle ammunition has not been required except in certain areas, such as California (ostensibly for the protection of condors). Because the service controls a lot of public hunting land, including huge refuges in Alaska, the order potentially affected thousands of hunters, some of whom cannot get effective non-lead alternatives.
A little background is necessary here. The lead shot ban for waterfowl was based on the feeding behavior of ducks and its potential to harm the then-endangered bald eagle. Shot fired by hunters over shallow marshes settled into the top layer of mud and was picked up by ducks feeding in these areas. Ducks use their gizzard to grind food, and the soft lead shot picked up by ducks was retained in the gizzard where it wore down quickly. The ducks absorbed lead in their bloodstream and were then fed upon by eagles. Eating a high-lead duck diet caused eagles to die from lead poisoning.
Research at the time of the lead ban pointed out that hunters forced to use ballistically inferior steel shot crippled as many ducks as were being killed by lead. Others questioned the logic of requiring steel for sea ducks, which were often shot over hundreds of feet of water. None of that mattered. Lead received a bad name and has never recovered. There is no widespread research that indicates lead in rifle projectiles leads to raptor poisoning. We do know that California condors have died from lead poisoning, but the source of that lead is largely conjecture.
With that background, it is interesting to note that on Mar. 2, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3347, revoking Director's Order No. 219. Zinke was confirmed by the senate on Mar. 1, so the order was literally conducted on his first day in office. Zinke noted that the Director's Order "is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders." The rescinding of the order might trigger an uproar from the environmental community, which has been trying to limit lead in ammunition by any and all means....