U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Expands Lead Ban on Refuges

On Friday, June 23, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) issued its proposed station-specific hunt/fish rule for 2023-24, expanding the ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle for eight additional refuges. As we reported last year, the FWS lead ban will likely expand year-over-year until a nationwide ban is put in place through the annual hunt/fish rule process.

As the Sportsmen’s Alliance testified in Congress just last month, the lead ban at Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge was finalized in the 2022-23 hunt/fish rule even though an Environmental Assessment (EA) documented that no wildlife mortality from lead exposure had taken place at the refuge. This year’s proposed hunt/fish rule likewise fails to establish specific problems associated with lead use at any of the sites slated for the lead ban expansion.

Within the EA for Blackwater Refuge, as an example, FWS states:

Additionally, even though the current level of lead available in the environment on the refuges may not be causing adverse impacts, the continued use of lead for hunting and fishing could lead to accumulated lead levels that present a danger to wildlife health.

In other words, FWS is seeking the ban because of overall concerns rather than scientific data that illustrates that lead use is causing a specific problem at the refuge. It is interesting to note that Blackwater Refuge was founded in 1933, yet FWS finds that the “current level of lead available” is not causing adverse impacts. Hunting and fishing have been taking place at the refuge for decades.

Once again, FWS is moving forward with a lead ban expansion without scientific evidence that its use is causing a population-level effect at any of the banned refuges. As the Sportsmen’s Alliance has repeatedly warned here and here, the hunting and fishing community must demand that agencies like FWS have science to back decision-making in hand before moving forward with regulations that we know will reduce participation.

“FWS is entirely dismissive of the cost factor that we know will drive hunters and anglers from the landscape,” said Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs at the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Throughout these proposals, FWS simply claims that cost and availability is ‘not a big deal.’ Well, this is a big deal and sportsmen throughout the country should be outraged that reducing participation is not treated more seriously by the agency.”

Returning to the Blackwater Refuge EA, FWS states:

While certain types of non-lead ammunition and tackle can cost more than certain types of lead ammunition and tackle, the price of non-lead ammunition is the same or less than that of premium lead ammunition.

This fantastical statement is one that FWS returns to time and again when discussing banning lead at refuges. It is simply not true that non-lead alternatives are cheaper than lead, and FWS completely disregards how deep the impact will be felt among those who are economically disadvantaged and simply trying to feed themselves and their families. We can and should demand more from our federal land managers.

The 2023-24 hunt/fish rule commenting period is open until August 22, 2023. Comments can be provided here.

About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, FacebookTwitter and Instagram.