Opinion

California Congressman Ignores Wildlife Science for Environmental Zealotry

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Posted: Jul 15, 2020 8:48 AM
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California Congressman Ignores Wildlife Science for Environmental Zealotry

Source: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Follow the science. That’s the mantra of the likes of U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). Except, that’s not what he’s doing.

The California congressman is cherry-picking studies and carrying the water for disgraced animal rights activists to introduce legislation that punishes the wildlife he claims to safeguard. Rep. Lieu is taking a “Washington knows best” approach to wildlife conservation in his attempt to ban traditional ammunition on National Wildlife Refuges. The only thing he is conserving is a bureaucratic quagmire of Washington, D.C. overreach and denying the role of wildlife biologists to make science-based decisions and set sound wildlife management policy for the regions for which they are responsible.

Congressman Lieu introduced the H.R. 7547, the Lead Endangers Animals Daily (LEAD) Act. The bill is an attempted redux at the failed Director’s Order 219, President Barack Obama’s last-minute attempt to ban the use of traditional ammunition by hunters on federal lands in 2016. Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe slipped in the regulation literally hours before shutting out the lights, only to have the policy rescinded by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on his very first day.  Director Ashe’s short-lived ban was excoriated by the U.S. House of Representatives for skipping steps and ignoring scientific input.

Congressional oversight found the order was drafted by a single staffer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Noah Matson, who had previously worked with an environmental activist group. Congress noted then that there was no implementation plan, no impact studies and even U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff normally involved in the process were blindsided.

Now, Rep. Lieu wants to do it again. This time, though, he wants the force of law.

California Dreaming

Rep. Lieu’s legislation aims to ban traditional ammunition on the 95 million acres of land that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages. He points to the California condor model and the plight of the American bald eagle as animals vulnerable to ingesting fragments of lead from animal carcasses. California banned all traditional ammunition for hunting claiming it was necessary to protect the endangered birds but relied upon a flawed, addenda-driven “study” and ignored evidence that they were ingesting lead from other sources. Two condors were observed eating paint chips from a fire lookout tower. Those birds fed the regurgitated lead-based paint chips to their fledgling chicks. Even after traditional ammunition was banned in the condor’s original range, instances of lead levels in condors remained static or actually increased slightly, even through there was over a 98 percent hunter compliance rate. This was information the Obama-era USFWS purposely withheld from the California legislature.

California banned the use of traditional ammunition for hunting in the condor’s range and later expanded it to the entire state. The firearm and ammunition industry warned this was misguided and was really a path to suffocating hunting and wildlife conservation. The state now faces a wildlife conservation funding crisis. Hunting license sales dropped 70 percent from 1970, from 750,000 then to just 225,000 in 2019.

The misguided laws intended to aid wildlife are choking off the funding streams to programs that are sustaining their recovery. By banning traditional ammunition, hunters are being priced out of the market. Alternatives exist, but they are prohibitively expensive for many. This is evidenced by the low one percent market share of metallic non-traditional ammunition.

Punishing Wildlife and Industry 

It’s not just the end user. A traditional ammunition ban would punish American workers. It is estimated that 29,700 people could lose their jobs following the implementation of legislation and regulations banning traditional ammunition. This would reduce national GDP by about $4.9 billion and would cost Federal, state and local tax revenues up to $655.1 million and excise tax collections of up to $113.8 million.

It is proven that conservation programs funded by the sale of the firearms and traditional ammunition works. Congressman Lieu invoked bald eagles, but those populations are soaring. The American bald eagle is a conservation success, increasing 724 percent from 1981 to 2006. Over 15,000 nesting pairs fly in the lower 48 contiguous states. They’ve been removed from the Endangered Species and Threatened Species Lists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer tracks population levels.

That’s largely due to conservation efforts like the $13 billion paid by the firearm and ammunition industry through the Pittman-Robertson Excise Tax. The industry pays a tax on every firearm and every cartridge and shotshell produced, which funds the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. That industry self-imposed tax has been in place since 1937 and is responsible for the abundant wildlife enjoyed in America today, including wild turkey, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, waterfowl and the fauna and habitats in which they thrive.

Cheap Seat Accolades

Rep. Lieu has his cheerleaders. First among them is the architect of the first attempt to do this, Dan Ashe. He’s now President and CEO of the Association of Zoo and Aquariums. Ashe has literally used his podium to denounce people-as-the-problem to wildlife conservation and belittled hunters for not accepting his vision of gun control. He told hunters that they stand in the way of his vision of progress by not trusting the biologists that manage wildlife populations. In Ashe’s mind, hunters should roll over to whims of increasingly hostile environmental zealots.

“We are reflexive, defensive, and increasingly angry, at the proportion of the population that just doesn’t get it,” he wrote in a 2018 Mountain Journal op-ed. The inconvenient truth, however, is that the don’t-get-it-crowd is a lot bigger and growing, while we and our island culture are, again, moving in the opposite direction.”

Congressman Lieu’s progressive base should be glad to know he’s got Wayne Pacelle in his corner on this too. Pacelle is now president of Animal Wellness Action, an activist group he founded after his fall from leading Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Pacelle was the CEO there until he was forced to resign after allegations of sexual harassment were reported.

America’s wildlife deserves more. The answers to wildlife management are best left to the biologists on the ground, not politicians in gilded Washington, D.C. offices who enjoy the fawning accolades of discredited and disgraced hacks.

Lawrence G. Keane is the Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry trade association.