The Biden administration is facing backlash for its proposed regulatory measures which critics have deemed an attack on hunting and could lead to further restrictions on hunting.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is reportedly preparing to publish draft hunting guidelines that may curb the type of equipment sportsmen are allowed to use on federal refuge properties. The guidelines are expected to expand the refuge area where cost–effective lead ammunition and fishing tackle will be banned.
“Raising the cost of hunting, raising the cost of fishing and raising the cost of our crowd doing their thing is objective number one, without a doubt, because they know if you make it more expensive, less people will do it,” said Todd Adkins, the vice president of government affairs for the Sportsmen’s Alliance, a pro–hunting group.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an influential environmental group and advocate for stringent federal wildlife protections, sued the federal government over a Trump administration rule expanding hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres across 147 wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries.
Instead of defending the rule, the Biden administration asked the court to delay proceedings in the case in February 2022, and in November agreed to a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which stipulated the government would take wide–ranging steps to protect wildlife “harmed by expanded hunting and fishing” on national wildlife refuges.
Under the settlement, the FWS promised to expand lead ammunition prohibitions across various refuges beginning in 2026 as part of the 2023–2024 annual rule expected to be proposed in May. The 2022–2023 rule finalized in September had only banned lead ammunition throughout the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge in southern Indiana.
“We‘ve seen millions of acres closed and we‘ve seen lead bans being put in place,” said Benjamin Cassidy, the executive vice president for international government and public affairs at the pro–hunting Safari Club International and a former senior Interior Department official.
Additionally, the FWS agreed to respond to the group’s petition demanding a lead ammunition phaseout across all national wildlife refuges. The settlement even required the agency to tell hunters to use bear spray when attacked by a grizzly bear instead of shooting the endangered animal.
In February, the FWS said it would study whether delisting grizzly bear species under the Endangered Species Act was warranted, but noted such an action “is of concern and will require careful consideration.” The state governments of Montana and Wyoming have asked the agency to remove federal protections on grizzly bears to allow residents to defend their property from the predator.
“In Montana, hunting and fishing and public access is a priority. And those activities that infringe on that, that aren‘t based on science, that aren‘t based on management, but are based on an agenda — you know, we‘re going to fight against,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke, R–Mont., who served as interior secretary between 2017–2019 during the Trump administration.
Zinke noted that the Trump administration’s first move was to expand hunting opportunities and reverse Obama–era restrictions on lead ammunition usage across wildlife refuges.
In addition, led by Sen. Steve Daines, R–Mont., 27 Republican senators wrote to FWS Director Martha Williams in May 2022, asking her not to restrict lead ammunition on wildlife refuges. And earlier this month, Daines and 22 fellow senators introduced legislation that would prevent the FWS, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from banning lead ammunition or tackle unless such an action is supported by the best available science.
Hunting advocates have maintained that the regulations proposed by the Biden administration are not based on science and will limit access to hunting and fishing, while environmentalists have argued that the restrictions are necessary to protect wildlife.
For now, it remains to be seen how the FWS will respond to the proposed regulations and the backlash from hunting and fishing advocates, but it is clear that the issue of lead ammunition and fishing tackle bans is one that is far from resolved.