The Biden administration, which pledged to “follow the science,” has had a change of heart. Science no longer matters when it comes to their plans to ban traditional lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held a hearing to discuss Rep. Rob Wittman’s (R-Va.) H.R. 615, Protecting Access for Hunters and Anglers Act. The NSSF-supported legislation would require the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to provide site-specific peer-reviewed scientific data that demonstrates traditional lead ammunition or fishing tackle is causing detrimental wildlife population impacts before prohibiting their use by hunters and anglers.
This matters because the fundamental principle undergirding the science of wildlife management is that you manage populations.
The legislation is in response to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) pulling its own bait-and-switch that put hunters and anglers in a bind last year. USFWS published its rule after a “sue-and-settle” scheme where the antihunting group Center For Biological Diversity sued USFWS to end the use of traditional ammunition on federal lands and USFWS immediately entered into a settlement agreement.
USFWS opened or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities at 18 National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) but prohibited the use of traditional lead ammunition and fishing tackle in a phased-in approach. The USFWS, according to their press release announcing the plan, indicated that this measure is based on the best scientific data available; however, no data indicates that traditional ammunition is causing population declines of any wildlife species at any of the refuges.
The Department of the Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks testified before the committee and essentially said, “We don’t need scientific studies. Trust us.”
That’s going to be a problem.
‘Trust me’ … No Thanks
“I think we ought to make sure that decisions are made based on sound science,” explained Rep. Wittman of his bill. “Where there is a relationship between the use of lead, whether it’s ammunition or for fishing sinkers or for that matter lures… to just carte-blanche say that we’re going to allow agencies to ban lead across the spectrum just doesn’t make good sense.
“This bill allows us to make sure that there are the necessary science-based guardrails on how these decisions are made,” Rep. Wittman added.
Lawmakers had reasons to doubt the Biden administration on the “trust us” approach to banning traditional lead ammunition. First and foremost is the administration’s myopic focus on gun control. Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Ala.) questioned the motives behind the administration’s insistence on banning traditional lead ammunition. Alternative ammunition is more expensive and less available. The increased costs would limit availability to gun owners that are hunters and non-hunters who might shoot recreationally on federal lands.
“Trust me. I’m from the government. You can trust me. That is such BS,” Rep. Carl said. “I’m smart enough to know if you’re going to control guns – you cannot control guns. You cannot mandate guns, but what you can mandate is the ammo. And that’s what this lead bill is after. I’m sorry. That’s my personal feeling… if you can control the lead that goes in those bullets, you get it overpriced where the average person can’t afford it, that will be the ultimate case right there.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary Stricker bristled at the requirement of Rep. Wittman’s bill that scientific data and cooperation with state fish and wildlife agencies should drive the decision at each site where the federal government wants to ban traditional ammunition and fishing tackle. Instead, he believes that USFWS should be applied to broadly existing studies across the entirety of the United States. In his estimation, what is happening in Alaska with wildlife is the same as what is happening in Southern California, or Florida for that matter.
“But at the end of the day there’s a national interest in these conservation lands even if they are located within a state or straddle a couple of states that we need to be cognizant of and that the Fish & Wildlife Service has a responsibility to steward those lands,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Stricker said. “Partnering with the states is one thing. Having to ask them for permission is quite another.”
Show Me the Science
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) pressed Deputy Assistant Secretary Strickler on his abdication of science to push the Biden administration’s attack on hunters and anglers.
“It seems you’re saying data and science to be a bad thing…” Rep. LaMalfa said in his questions. “Why shouldn’t the government, in this case, have to gain proof like are the lead levels actually affecting the wildlife we’re talking about in these units? Why shouldn’t government have to show through data that there’s an effect before it jumps in with a policy action?”
Deputy Assistant Secretary Strickler attempted to justify the “no studies needed” approach by explaining that loons feeding behavior in Maine is the same as in Michigan. That ignores, however, that loons are not native to Virginia, Florida or Arizona. Banning traditional ammunition to protect loons in states where they don’t exist isn’t sound science.
“By that measure, we would ban things that have not reached a level of action across the board if they’ve done it somewhere else,” Rep. LaMalfa explained. “If you had a fuel spill somewhere that greatly affected a body of water, if there’s a potential of a fuel spill near a different body of water than there, then it’s like we should ban all fuel. That’s the same kind of logic.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary Strickler disagreed, of course.
“Should we ban all lead shot? Ban all lead tackle?” Rep. LaMalfa asked.
“That’s certainly not the policy of the Department of the Interior to ban all lead shot and tackle,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Strickler responded.
“It’s effectively doing so,” Rep. LaMalfa said to end the exchange.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) wanted to know the potential impacts such a ban might have on wildlife conservation. Firearm and ammunition manufacturers have paid over $16 billion, or $25 billion when adjusted for inflation, in Pittman-Robertson excise taxes to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund since 1937. That’s benefited all Americans with abundant wildlife and habitat restoration along with access to public lands for hunters, anglers and other recreationists.
Rep. Westerman wanted to know what happens when the cost of ammunition goes up. Would hunters absorb those costs or quit hunting and would Pittman-Robertson conservation funds suffer?
Todd Adkins, Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Vice President of Government Affairs, said he witnessed duck hunters abandon the field over the cost of increased alternative ammunition required for waterfowl hunting. It’s a pattern, he said, that would repeat itself.
“I believe because of the effects that any increase in cost will have on hunters and anglers – the financial backbone – we have to spend some time with that question and not just suggest that everything will remain static and everything’s going to be fine and the world won’t change,” Adkins said. “We know it will change if you increase costs.”
Adkins pointed out that Rep. Wittman’s legislation requiring site-specific scientific data in cooperation with state fish and wildlife agencies is the key to solving the impasse. That’s what NSSF has been saying all along. Let the science drive the decisions instead of pressures by antihunting groups to force through feel-good measures that will harm wildlife conservation in the long run.
“I called it in my testimony elegant simplicity,” Adkins said of the Protecting Access for Hunters and Anglers Act. “This was carefully crafted to address the principal problem of the approach taken by many of the agencies right now. Very straightforward, very simple to ask that the science we’re going to utilize to kick hunters and anglers off the landscape is actually directly tied to the unit under consideration.”
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
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