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Zinke Rescinds Obama Ban on Lead Shot and Sinkers on Federal Land and Waters

Five years ago, Congresswoman Kristi Noem tried to protect the use of lead shot and sinkers on federal lands. Heck, if she really wanted to achieve that goal, she should have held out for a Trump Cabinet position:

New U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday issued an order overturning an Obama administration ban on the controversial use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on federal lands and waters, in a nod to hunters and fishermen on his first day on the job.

…President Barack Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service had issued the lead ban on Jan. 19, one day before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to protect birds and fish from lead poisoning. The move was met with sharp criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which called it Obama’s “final assault on gun owners’ and sportsmen’s rights” [Valerie Volcovici, “New Interior Head Lifts Lead Ammunition Ban in Nod to Hunters,” Reuters via KELO Radio, 2017.03.02].

As folks in Flint, Michigan, will tell us, lead is bad for living things. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center agrees, noting that we originally outlawed lead shot for waterfowl hunting under the first Bush Administration:

Lead is a metal with no known biologically beneficial role, and its use in gasoline, paint, pesticides and solder in food cans has nearly been eliminated. Although lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for upland hunting, shooting sports and in fishing tackle remains widespread.

The most significant hazard to wildlife is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers, lead tackle and related fragments, or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets or fragments.

Dr. Barnett Rattner, USGS contaminant expert comments, “The magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons, is daunting. For this reason, on July 1, 2008, the state of California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California condor because the element poses such a threat to this endangered species” [USGS National Wildlife Health Center, “Concerns Rise over Known and Potential Impacts of Lead on Wildlife,” updated 2016.05.19, retrieved 2017.03.02].

USGS is under Secretary Zinke now. We’ll see if their online information on wildlife lead poisoning meets the Trump scrubber.


  1. jerry 2017-03-03 07:49

    Geese and ducks were always my favorite to hunt. I love to watch them come into decoys and to wait and be patient while they checked things out. You could start to see the sick ones even all those years ago, just a skeleton with wings. We would cull those if for some reason the flock would flare and then bury them. Wardens with spotting scopes, would see this and not count those birds as taken on the tag either, they knew the birds were dying by poison. After the steel shot came into the game, we started to see a more healthy group of game and on top of that, the steel may not have had the same range as lead, but it was just as effective if you were a hunter that made your shots count. I think that if you ask real sportsmen, that have hunted for decades, what they see as far as healthy birds, they will tell you. When Zinke rode into the office, it was hard for me to tell where the horse’s ass was, now I know.

  2. mike from iowa 2017-03-03 08:30

    Not just the wingnut Feds- Texass AG commissioner Sid Miller proposes using Warfarin to kill feral hogs- and hunters and predators and birds of prey and anyone else that may ingest poisoned pork.

    The stoopid never stops with wingnuts.

  3. John 2017-03-03 08:37

    Undoubtedly done to brandish everything anti-Obama. The science is clear. Lead had no point in our food supply or in the food supply of the ecosystem’s other predators. Eating game killed with lead is dangerous. Pellets get ingested. Bullets have spalling spreading atmospheric shards of lead over a foot or two from the site of the wound. If the animal does not die instantly then the lead courses through the dying animals blood stream and muscles.

  4. Greg 2017-03-05 13:42

    Why did President Obama wait 8 years to put this ban on lead shot? I don’t think there are any pheasant shot over water.

  5. Rangerrick 2017-03-12 10:59

    As a avid water fowler , steel shot is not as deadly on water fowler as lead was. I have over 30 years hunting ducks and geese and I can say I never seen as many “crippled” ducks and geese as I had until steel shot was made mandatory. On more hunts that I can recall I had my retrievers bring ducks and geese to me with busted wings and very “sick” looking and I never fired a shot. I hunted water fowl on the Columbia River , where depths of that river were well over 100ft, no duck or goose could dive that deep to get to the bottom to ingest lead. My father in law worked for 37 years at a dam on that river, and was a avid hunter also , and he would tell me after steel was made mandatory the thousands of ducks and geese they had to remove every month by nets to clears the mile wide dam he worked at, either they were “crippled or dead” all from steel shot, for wildlife biologists would examine the birds. To me leave it to the hunters, if I choose to use lead so be it, if another wishes to use steel so be it. To me it should be my choice not a anti or greenie making that choice for me.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-12 11:27

    I appreciate the persepctive from the field, Rangerrick, but following the logic of your concluding sentence, should we let automakers set their own emissions standards? Should we let utilities set their own air-quality standards? Should we let CAFOs set their own manure-discharge limits?

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