NWF Committed to Reducing Lead Poisoning in Wildlife

The National Wildlife Federation has worked for decades on reducing the use of lead-based ammunition and tackle, because—as anyone who’s worked with eagles, condors, or loons knows—the science is clear: lead is toxic for wildlife (and people for that matter).   To this end, the state and territorial affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation have passed five resolutions supporting the reduction of lead shot and tackle, specifically calling for “Conversion from the Use of Lead Shot,” “Use of Non-Toxic Shot in Waterfowl Migratory Hunting,” “Reduced Lead Shot Poisoning in Waterfowl, Bald Eagles, and Other Wildlife,” “Reduced Pollution From Lead Fishing Sinkers,” and “Support for Non-toxic Shot for Hunting Webless Migratory Game Birds.”

No organization has worked harder or more collaboratively to make progress on this important wildlife issue.  Over the past 40 years, the National Wildlife Federation and our partners have won hard-fought victories across the country to reduce the use of lead, including the federal ban on lead-based ammunition in waterfowl areas, state restrictions of the use of lead in important habitat areas, state prohibitions on lead tackle, and state-level efforts to increase use of non-toxic alternatives.  Each of these victories were possible, because broad coalitions of hunters, anglers, conservationists, industry, and government agencies came together to develop effective solutions based upon sound science.

Unfortunately, the critical ingredient of collaboration was absent during the development of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director’s Order #219, Use of Nontoxic Ammunition and Fishing Tackle. Here’s some background: the order was signed on January 19, 2017—the last full day of the Obama Administration—and laid out a process for the gradual phase-out of lead shot and fishing tackle over the next several years on National Wildlife Refuges and other lands, waters, and facilities regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Due to our longstanding commitment to reducing lead poisoning of wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation supported the order, even though we had concerns about the process.

Unlike previous successful efforts, like the lead ban for waterfowl areas adopted in 1986, there was no stakeholder engagement process, no outreach to state agencies, no consultation with outside groups, and no attempt to build a coalition to ensure Order #219 would survive the change of administrations or other inevitable challenges. After years of inaction, the order was rushed with the full knowledge that it would likely be rescinded within a few weeks (it survived 42 days). This unilateral, last minute approach further politicized an already challenging problem and hardened the positions of various interests, making future progress more difficult.

That all said, the National Wildlife Federation neither advocated for, nor supported, rescinding Order #219, which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did in March 2017. We have been on the frontline of the efforts to adopt non-toxic alternatives from the beginning. We were invited to the Secretary’s office to welcome him on his first day in office, because we’ve worked closely with Secretary Zinke to defend public lands, increase conservation funding, advance proactive wildlife conservation, fix the infrastructure in our parks and wildlife refuges, and get more Americans outdoors. Of course, we do not agree on everything, but as a non-partisan organization, we are committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to advance wildlife conservation wherever we can. We did not know that he planned to sign two orders on his first day—though we generally liked the other order, which directs the department to work with stakeholders to identify top priorities for expanding recreational access and restoring wildlife habitat.

At the National Wildlife Federation, we are focused on building broad-based coalitions and finding common-sense, science-based solutions that will survive the test of time. Reducing the use of lead shot and tackle and replacing it with increasingly available copper, steel, and tungsten alternatives is absolutely the right thing to do for wildlife. To make additional progress, we need to have an honest conversation in this country with sportsmen, wildlife professionals, government agencies, and industry about the science of how lead continues to afflict wildlife. We are committed to keep working collaboratively to develop science-based solutions that will effectively reduce lead poisoning in wildlife.

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Published: March 7, 2017