Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order Thursday overturning a ban on using lead ammunition on wildlife refuges.
Zinke signed the order on his first day in office, overturning a policy implemented by former Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe on Jan. 19, the Obama administration’s last full day in office.
Ashe’s policy banned the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on all FWS wildlife refuges that allow hunting or fishing, as well as in all other hunting or fishing regulated by the agency elsewhere.
It was meant to help prevent plants and animals from being poisoned by lead left on the ground or in the water.
“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,” Zinke wrote in his order.
Zinke also signed an order Thursday asking agencies within his purview to find ways to increase access to outdoor recreation on the lands they oversee.
“It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite,” he said in a statement. “This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community’s voice is heard.”
Gun rights advocates, sportsmen’s groups, conservatives and state wildlife agencies were united against the lead ban.
Lead is standard in ammunition, and lead-free bullets are more expensive, leading opponents to accuse the FWS of trying to reduce hunting. Furthermore, opponents say, scientific studies do not show large-scale harms from lead use in hunting and fishing.
“This was a reckless, unilateral overreach that would have devastated the sportsmen’s community,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement, thanking Zinke.
“The Obama administration failed to consult with state fish and wildlife agencies or national angling and hunting organizations in issuing this order. This was not a decision based on sound scientific evidence — it was a last second attack on traditional ammunition and our hunting heritage.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who had asked for the repeal Wednesday, applauded Zinke’s action.
“I’m pretty certain the bureaucrat that put this regulation in place has never hunted elk in Montana,” he said in a statement. “Secretary Zinke is off to a strong start protecting Montana’s and our country’s hunting and fishing heritage.”
But the Sierra Club said there is “no reason” not to take lead out of ammunition and tackle.
“Non-lead options are available, effective, cost-competitive, and most importantly safer,” said Athan Manuel, public lands director for the group.
“Overturning the lead ammunition ban may win political points with a few special interests, but it could cost the lives of millions of birds and the health of families that rely on game to feed their families.”