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Senate calls a foul on Sportsmen's Act

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Red Lodge | Nov 30, 2012 06:00 AM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

With a highly anticipated majority, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 passed the Senate this week. No, wait, it totally didn’t.

The high profile bill (S. 3525), which was authored and championed by Jon Tester (D-MT) would, among other things, increase access to public lands for hunters and anglers. It was seen as a safe bet with broad, bi-partisan support after having passed two procedural votes in the Senate earlier this month (by margins of 92-5 and 84-12).

The Act, which combines 16 separate Senate and House bills, has a lot going for it in terms of conservation. The package supports a bunch of historically effective programs including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

Sand Lake NWR

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Image courtesy Tom Koerner, USFWS

Those programs don’t just protect wildlife and habitat, and therefore the places recreationists like to go, they bolster the economies of states and the nation in a big way. Outdoor recreation contributed $646 billion in direct spending to the U.S. economy last year, according to the Western Governors’ Association. Failing to support these measures is also a kick in the shins to local economies and employment.

Duck StampS. 3525 was upset this week when the Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), called a point of order claiming the Act violates Senate spending rules. He was talking about the provision in the bill which increases the cost from $15 to $25 of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (commonly known as “Duck Stamps”) which are the licenses required annually for hunting migratory waterfowl. That suggested price hike technically violates a 2011 budget agreement intended to prevent such fee increases. A motion to waive that point of order failed by 10 votes and, thus, the Act was sunk.

Sessions' eagle eye observation of Senate spending rules is not, of course, what it appears on the surface. Rather, it's a thinly-veiled attack on Sen. Tester (who just defeated his Republican rival in a heated Senate race), and a secondary swing at conservation spending. Sen. Sessions may as well be walking around with a bullhorn barking to sportsmen and environmentalists that their support of Sen. Tester did not get them what they want.

But a big loser here is wetlands conservation. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar generated by the sale of Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or to lease wetland habitat for protection within the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is a highly effective way of protecting our natural resources. Dozens of groups that represent tens of millions of hunters and anglers supported the price hike. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost bump would ultimately reduce the deficit by $5 million.Wetlands of 66 Ranch in Montana

Wetlands of the 66 Ranch in Montana. Image courtesy Montana Wetlands Legacy Project

It’s unlikely the Act will be resurrected in this lame duck Congress (an especially fitting moniker in this case) with so few legislative days remaining. But, despite the short-term loss for conservation programs, bringing back the legislation in the 113th Congress, after a period of debate and refinement, may be for the best.

While dozens of conservation-minded groups supported the Act as-is, many more opposed at least two aspects of the multi-pronged bill. The first is a provision that would allow hunters to import trophy polar bears hunted in Canada several years ago into the U.S. (they are currently prohibited to do so by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). It’s an odd point of debate given the hunters killed the bears before they were declared a federally threatened species. Opponents of this item fear it would set a bad precedent for trafficking in endangered and threatened species. I’m sympathetic to the argument but it’s just wrong to hold these hunters to the letter of a law which post-dates their activity.

Lead shot in bald eagleIt’s the second controversial provision that gives me pause. Current language in the Act denies the federal government (read the Environmental Protection Agency, a conservative bugaboo) the authority to ever regulate the amount of the lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. We’ve known for a very long time that lead entering the food chain through discarded ammo and fishing sinkers is detrimental to many species including condors, bald eagles and loons. It’s for this reason that lead shot was banned for hunting waterfowl in 1991. It is still legal for hunting game birds and mammals, and for fishing.

Just how much lead are we talking about? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, millions of pounds of lead end up in the environment every year from hunting, fishing and shooting sports. The USGS estimates that about 400,000 lead shotgun pellets accumulate per acre, per year at frequently used hunting fields. While roughly 8.8 million pounds of lead fishing sinkers are sold each year in the U.S. the environmental effects of those on aquatic and terrestrial systems have not been studied adequately.

The health effects on human who ingest fish and wildlife acquired with lead tackle also need to be studied more thoroughly. A recent study [PDF] by the U.S. Center for Disease Control showed that consumers of hunted venison have 66 percent more lead in their bloodstream than non-consumers, a result that was troubling to the medical community.

Despite the tiresome rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, this issue is not on the slippery slope of Second Amendment rights. Regulating lead in hunters’ and anglers’ gear—which may mean changing not the amount of lead in bullets but the type of bullet—should be studied and debated. Until the impacts of lead from these sources is better understood, an amendment to a future Sportsmen’s Act removing the lead exemption is necessary.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for their content.

Heather Hansen is an environmental journalist working with the Red Lodge Clearinghouse /Natural Resources Law Center at CU Boulder, to help raise awareness of natural resource issues.

Image of original Duck Stamp courtesy USFWS

Image of lead shot in eagle's body courtesy American Veterinary Association.

Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Dec 03, 2012 06:55 AM
Hi Heather,

You might want to fix a link. The link to the Center for Disease Control study leads instead to a baseless rant by some nutter. It turns out that study was so supportive of lead being a non issue that the bullet industry trade group made it permanently available online here. http://www.nssf.org/share/PDF/ND_report.pdf You can fix the link if you'd like.

Use of the study to obscure rather than enlighten is a prime example of why one should always be careful of one's sources.

The key findings of the CDC study were that the people they studied who ate game had a much lower lead level than the US general population. Children who ate game had a lead level half of that of the general child population in the US. Both children and adults had a higher lead level than control humans in the area of study. How could all this be true at the same time?

Most lead reaches the population through soil acidification, coal plants, and lead paint. North Dakota where the study took place has little of these sources. You are probably exposed to more lead in your daily commute to shopping at Whole Foods in Boulder than eaters of game meat in N Dakota. Should we abandon cities especially on the coasts? No but we should work at reducing lead exposure and keep things in perspective.

One good part of this bill was it took considerations of lead amo away from the EPA and more rightly allowed states and the feds to regulate it via their respective Wildlife Agencies. Who better to understand the affects on Wildlife than our government agencies charged with protecting wildlife that have done such a terrific job for so many decades?

I found "lead poisoning" in Wiki to be a good place to start.
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Dec 03, 2012 08:39 AM
Thanks, Robb, I fixed the link. - Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor.
Heather Hansen
Heather Hansen
Dec 03, 2012 09:49 AM
Mr Cadwell -Thanks for the comment and for providing the link to the study – I should have given both. I chose to use the NYU article (hardly a “nutter” as you characterize it) because it talks about the response to the study findings by public health officials in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin who pulled venison from food banks after the study revealed unacceptable (to them) levels of lead.

Since you read the study you know that, in 734 blood samples, the “geometric mean” (when the levels are multiplied and the square root taken) was PbB 1.17μg/dl. Eight of those people had a PbB level of ≥5 μg/dl.

Your point about the amount of lead in the blood of non-study participants is well taken – we’re all exposed to too much of it in our daily lives – but, anyway you spin it, the study subjects had 66 percent more lead in their blood than non-study participants. An increase in the likelihood of death from a heart attack or stroke has been shown in people with blood levels greater than 2 μg/dl. Why would anyone increase their risk if it could be easily prevented?

Another reason I linked to the NYU story is that is quotes the CDC study leader who, putting the findings in context said, “There are no safe levels of lead in humans and this was an additional source of lead we were not aware of.”
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Dec 03, 2012 11:04 AM
Copy of letter here: http://www.biologicaldivers[…]sign-on_11-26-12_letter.pdf

For Immediate Release, November 26, 2012

200 Groups Object to Lead-poisoning Provision in Sportsmen's Bill

Call on Senate to Allow Vote on Boxer Amendment

WASHINGTON— More than 200 citizen groups are objecting to a provision in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (Senate Bill 3525) that would create an exemption under federal toxics law to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from evaluating or regulating lead poisoning of wildlife and humans from hunting or fishing activities.

A wide array of public-interest organizations called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to allow debate on the lead-poisoning exemption. Such debate has never occurred in Congress despite the serious environmental and public-health problems caused by spent lead ammunition and lost lead fishing weights and the availability of nontoxic alternatives to lead. The organizations support an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to block the exemption and study the human-health and environmental effects of lead poisoning from lead in ammunition and fishing sinkers.

“It’s outrageous that the Senate can’t find 10 minutes to allow any debate before voting to prevent our federal environmental agency from regulating, or even evaluating, a deadly toxic substance that we know is killing bald eagles and other wildlife — a toxin that causes neurological damage to humans and hinders mental development in children,” said William Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are good reasons we got toxic lead out of gasoline and home paints. The irony of this bill, preventing any regulation of lead used in hunting ammunition or fishing weights, is that it will harm hunters and anglers.”

The Sportsmen’s Act, which could be voted on as early as today, would create an exemption under the Toxic Substances Control Act to block the EPA from ever regulating toxic lead used in hunting ammunition and fishing sinkers or even evaluating the impacts of lead from these sources. The bill also contains an exemption that would allow imports of threatened polar bear parts from Canada despite the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition against such trade.

“Why would the Senate bow to the National Rifle Association’s anti-science views on lead poisoning and pass a special-interest legal exemption to promote further lead poisoning?” said Snape. “The amendment offered by Senator Boxer would actually establish a moratorium on any regulation of lead in ammunition or fishing sinkers until federal health and environment agencies prepare an objective study that all Americans could trust.”

Toxic lead entering the food chain from spent hunting ammunition and lost or discarded fishing sinkers poisons and kills bald eagles, endangered condors, loons, swans and more than 130 other species of wildlife. Hunters risk lead poisoning from ingesting lead fragments and residues in game shot with lead ammunition. Recent studies and scientific reports show elevated blood lead levels in hunters eating lead-infected meat, as well as dangerous lead contamination of venison donations to low-income food banks.

The Boxer amendment is reprinted below in its entirety.

Boxer Amendment to the Sportsmen’s Act:

SA 2902. Mrs. BOXER submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to amendment SA 2875 proposed by Mr. REID (for Mr. TESTER) to the bill S. 3525, to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

Strike section 121 and insert the following:

SEC. 121. NO REGULATION OF AMMUNITION OR FISHING TACKLE PENDING STUDY OF HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS.

(a) No Regulation of Ammunition or Fishing Tackle.--The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall not issue any proposed or final rule or guidance to regulate any chemical substance or mixture in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq.) during the period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act and ending on the date of the publication of the study required by subsection (b).

(b) Study of Potential Human Health and Environmental Effects.—

(1) IN GENERAL.--Not later than December 31, 2014, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Secretary of the Interior shall jointly prepare and publish a study that describes the potential threats to human health (including to pregnant women, children, and other vulnerable populations) and to the environment from the use of—

(A) lead and toxic substances in ammunition and fishing tackle; and

(B) commercially available and less toxic alternatives to lead and toxic substances in ammunition and fishing tackle.

(2) USE.--The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall use, as appropriate, the findings of the report required by paragraph (1) when considering any potential future decision related to a chemical substance or mixture when the substance or mixture is used in ammunition or fishing tackle.

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