USFWS issues Director’s Order for use of nontoxic ammunition

By Jamila Blake

©Robert Taylor

USFWS released Director’s Order 219 on Jan. 19, during the final hours of the Obama Administration. The Order outlines an effort to expand the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on lands and species under the jurisdiction of the federal agency. The policy, issued by the exiting USFWS Director Dan Ashe, would “require the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle to the fullest extent practicable for all activities on Service lands, waters, and facilities by January 2022, except as needed for law enforcement or health and safety uses, as provided for in policy.” The order also directs USFWS to collaborate with other federal, state, and tribal agencies to implement this policy.

Regulation of lead (Pb) in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle has been a subject of frequent scientific inquiry and policy debate for the past several decades.  The Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society summarized some of the scientific information in a technical review, published in 2008, that examined the sources and implications of lead in natural resources.

The Order includes a brief explanation of the effects of metallic lead on fish and wildlife health. The U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center highlights the possibility of lead poisoning when animals ingest spent shot or prey on carcasses containing lead ammunition. Ingestion of lost fishing tackle by loons and other waterfowl can also contribute to lead poisoning in some regions. Several states have already placed restrictions on the use of lead in hunting and fishing activities to help curb the risk of lead poisoning in wildlife, and USFWS enacted nationwide restrictions on ammunition used in waterfowl hunting in 1991 to limit waterfowl exposure to lead.

The Order outlines the need to continue targeted research and work with states and other partners to better understand the benefits of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle and to ensure consistent regulatory requirements for hunters and anglers. If any sensitive, vulnerable, or Service trust resources exhibit negative impacts from lead ammunition and fishing tackle, the Order directs USFWS to require nontoxic practices to benefit such species or resources. According to the Order, the National Flyway Councils and individual states will be asked to help establish a process to phase in a nontoxic ammunition requirement for hunting of mourning doves and other species whose harvest is regulated by USFWS.

This Order has received mixed reviews in the broader conservation community and in Congress. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a statement expressing their “utter dismay” towards the Order and a lack of communication between the states and the USFWS in developing this policy. The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association also released statements of concern regarding the USFWS’ actions.

In a letter last week to Jim Kurth, the current USFWS acting director, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked that the agency provide all documents relevant to the Order by Feb. 13. The Committee also requested a briefing from USFWS to explain “its outreach efforts to the states and sportsmen’s community in anticipation of issuing Director’s Order No. 219.”

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle and Technical Review. The Wildlife Society recognizes that lead has been known to be a broad-spectrum toxicant to humans and wildlife and advocates for the replacement of lead-based ammunition and fishing tackle with nontoxic products. TWS acknowledges that the complete replacement may not be possible in specific circumstances.

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.