- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hours after literally riding into town on a horse for his first day on the job, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday scrapped an Obama-era ban on hunting with lead bullets on federal lands.

The rule, put into place during the final days of the Obama administration, was cast as an attempt to prevent the lead poisoning of animals on all lands overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But critics — including sportsmen’s groups, gun rights organizations and a host of others at the federal and state levels — said it was designed to discourage hunting. Mr. Zinke seemed to agree, signaling that he believed the rule hindered hunting and fishing for many Americans.

“Over the past eight years … hunting, and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board,” Mr. Zinke said in a statement. “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.”

The order, Mr. Zinke’s first action as interior secretary after being confirmed in a bipartisan Senate vote on Wednesday, also repeals a ban on the use of fish tackle on the same lands.

While some studies have shown that lead ammunition can pose a greater risk to wildlife, non-lead bullets are more expensive and not as widely available.

Supporters of the Obama administration rule say Mr. Zinke’s reversal is dangerous.

“There’s just no excuse not to make the transition [away from lead bullets], except for knee-jerk opposition from a segment of society that simply thinks it’s acceptable collateral damage for upwards of 15 million animals from more than 130 species to die of lead poisoning every year,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement. “Hunters can still pursue their hobby without dumping tons of toxic poison on the wildlife who live there.”

Mr. Zinke also signed another order Thursday ordering all agencies within the Interior Department to identify areas where outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing can be expanded.

“Outdoor recreation is about both our heritage and our economy. Between hunting, fishing, motorized recreation, camping and more, the industry generates thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity,” the secretary said.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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