On his first full day in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order Thursday reversing a last-minute action by the Obama administration to ban lead ammunition and fish tackle used on national wildlife refuges.
Gun-rights supporters condemned the earlier order — issued a day before Obama left office Jan. 20 — as nakedly political. The order was intended to protect birds from lead poisoning, the Obama administration said.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman and avid hunter, said the new order would increase hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities on lands managed by Fish and Wildlife Service.
The order reverses a decision by the Obama administration to phase out use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on wildlife refuges by 2022.
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Zinke, who rode to work on a horse Thursday as a sign of solidarity with U.S. Park Police, said the hunting order and another order directing agencies to identify areas where recreation and fishing can be expanded were intended to boost outdoor recreation in all its forms.
"Outdoor recreation is about both our heritage and our economy," he said in a statement. "Between hunting, fishing, motorized recreation, camping and more, the industry generates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity."
Over the past eight years, hunting and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board, Zinke said. "It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite. This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community's voice is heard."
Environmental groups slammed the new directive on lead ammunition, arguing that spent lead casings cause poisoning in 130 species of birds and other animals.
Switching to nontoxic ammunition should be "a no-brainer" to save the lives of thousands of birds and other wildlife and to "prevent hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead and protect our water," said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Evans called it ironic that one of the first actions by Zinke — a self-described champion of hunters and anglers — "leads to poisoning of game and waterfowl eaten by those same hunting families."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke's order "represents an important check on executive abuse and reverses what was a deliberate attack on Americans' fundamental rights and privileges" by the Obama administration.