The Biden administration recently enacted a rule change banning lead bullets and tackle usage on 18 national wildlife refuges spanning 38,000 acres opened to new fishing and hunting opportunities. 

“The Service remains concerned that lead ammunition and fishing tackle have negative impacts on both human health and wildlife and will continue to evaluate their future use on Service lands and waters through a transparent public process,” read a press release. 

If left in place, the final rule would entirely phase out lead usage on new openings by 2026. 

This policy change stems from a February 2022 “sue and settle” agreement reached between the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), originating from a November 2021 lawsuit filed by CBD under the guise of “protecting” endangered wildlife. 

“Today’s lawsuit challenges the Trump administration’s decision last year to expand hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres, across 147 wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries,” the organization said. “The suit explains that rare animals — including grizzly bears, jaguars, ocelots and whooping cranes — are harmed by use of toxic lead ammunition and tackle, increased traffic and noise and other risks associated with the massive expansion of sport hunting and fishing.”

In states where 100% lead bans have gone into effect—namely California—the effects have been ruinous. Lead prohibition has led to fewer Golden State residents fishing and hunting, displacement from outdoor industry jobs, and millions of conservation dollars vanishing.

The ban was forecasted to produce two million lost angler days and $173 million reduction in expenditures—resulting in over 2,000 fishing jobs lost. Thirty-six percent of licensed California hunters said they would “stop hunting or reduce their participation” after the ban goes into effect. Lead alternatives are undoubtedly costlier—upwards of 10 to 20 times—and questionable as a viable replacement. Thus, pricing regular Americans out of these pastimes—pastimes that have seen a resurgence following the pandemic.

Fishing and hunting trade industry representatives denounced the rule change. 

“It is deeply disappointing that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) ignored science and the concerns of the sportfishing industry,” said Mike Leonard, American Sportfishing Association vice president of Government Affairs. “USFWS is charged with ensuring fish and wildlife resource management is rooted in the best available data and science. This proposed rule runs counter to that charge, and sets a dangerous precedent for future unwarranted bans on fishing tackle. Although USFWS states that this decision is based on concerns that lead ammunition and tackle have negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of both humans and wildlife, USFWS provided zero evidence of lead fishing tackle causing any negative impacts in these refuges.”

It’s obvious the Biden administration is taking cues from radical preservationist environmental organizations to displace hunters and anglers, the largest funders of conservation, from public lands access by pricing them out of the activities. 

This very act is unprecedented. Expanding public land access shouldn’t come with an added burden of paying more to recreate outdoors—regardless of the president.

Even worse, CBD’s lead components argument doesn’t even hold water. I debunked this at RealClear Policy earlier this summer. 

The environmental organization deceptively conflates pure lead with lead fragments by downplaying a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study concluding lead fragments used in hunting, for instance, don’t lead to poisoning: 

Assessing blood lead levels (PbB) is key to determining the harmful effects of lead fragments. What does the available science currently suggest? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends adults maintain a PbB under 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dl).

A 2008 study jointly released by the North Dakota Health Department and CDC assessed blood lead levels of participants who consumed and didn’t consume game meat. When accounting for variables, it found the control group participants who ate wild game “had 0.30 µg/dl higher PbB in comparison with those who did not consume wild game.” That’s statistically insignificant. Moreover, a similar Health and Human Services (HHS) study from Wisconsin found lead poisoning doesn’t result “from ingestion of lead bullet fragments in large game animals.”

In response to the new USFWS rule, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and 22 Senate Republicans have co-sponsored a bill, Protecting Access for Hunters and Anglers Act (S. 4940), to bar the U.S. Interior and Agricultural Secretaries from further prohibiting lead usage on America’s public lands. 

Daines said, “Sportsmen are the original conservationists and play an important role in wildlife management—the last thing we should do is limit their access to public lands by implementing a blanket-ban on traditional ammo and tackle. Not only would this affect our state agencies’ revenue but it’s also unfair to sportsmen who can’t access or afford lead alternatives and depend on hunting and fishing,” 

The Biden administration cannot simultaneously tout distributing a historic $1.5 billion in conservation funding back to the states yet implement lead bans that displace anglers and hunters from public lands access. 

To learn more about true conservation, read my policy focus here.