Washington, DC — The National Park Service has stepped back from a plan it announced earlier this month to ban lead-based ammunition and fishing tackle by 2010, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The proposed lead ban triggered a fierce counterattack by gun groups that has put into doubt the pledge to eliminate lead ammunition from the park system by 2010.
On March 4, 2009, Acting National Park Service (NPS) Director Daniel Wenk sent out an internal directive that the agency would outlaw the use of lead in firearms, fishing and hunting by “December 31, 2010 or sooner.” Wenk wrote that he had issued instructions that a “Special Regulation” be drafted “prohibiting the use of lead in hunting and fishing activities for those parks that authorize such activities”. Hunting is permitted in 60 NPS units and fishing in widely allowed throughout the national park system.
Reaction from hunting groups after the lead ban was publicly announced was immediate and sharp. For example, National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris Cox said on March 12th:
“The NPS announcement demonstrates either complete ignorance or complete arrogance as to the effect that this policy will have on hunters…This policy, and the lack of communication in advance with the sportsmen's community, is a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of people who will want to hunt ….The NRA will continue to be a voice of opposition against this unnecessary action…”
Shortly thereafter, on March 18 NPS issued a “Clarification” that steps back from the vow of a ban:
“In the future, we will look at the potential for transitioning to non-lead ammunition and non-lead fishing tackle for recreational use by working with our policy office and appropriate stakeholders/groups. This will require public involvement, comment, and review.”
“This lead ban is an early test of whether the Obama administration will be guided by science or politics in setting environmental policy,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is preparing a rulemaking petition to accomplish the no-lead policy if the NPS plan remains in limbo. “We urge the Obama administration to keep with its original timeline of going lead-free by 2011.”
The Park Service “Get-the-Lead-Out!” plan emanated from within the agency without a clear political patron. The new administration is already struggling with how to handle a controversial NRA-backed repeal of rules against carrying loaded firearms in all national parks and wildlife refuges.
The reason for a ban is the harm to wildlife from ingestion of spent lead shot, bullets or sinkers, as well as the danger of dissolved lead contaminating groundwater. In 1991, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service banned lead shot nationwide in waterfowl hunting. Several countries, including Canada, have lead ammunition bans. Last year, California adopted a partial ban while in Minnesota the NRA blocked a legislative effort to outlaw lead ammunition.
“The issue with non-lead ammo is cost. There are readily available alternatives, such as tungsten, copper, and steel, but they are a little more expensive,” added Ruch, commenting that hunting has not decreased in states or countries that restrict lead ammunition. “It is obviously not a good idea to pump loads of lead into the environment, let alone across national parks.”