Catfish Conservation Feb 2017 River Rumors

River Rumors: Lead Ban

catfish, Trophy club

by Jim Shepherd

Last Minute Lead Ban Will Affect Fishing, Hunting in USFWS Lands Nationwide

The biggest impact of the lead ban on catfishermen will be the sinkers that they use.
The biggest impact of the lead ban on catfishermen will be the sinkers that they use.

USFWS Order 219

As U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe’s tenure was at times contentious. But whenever I took exception with one of his decisions, there were back-channel emails reminding me that “we need to try and work with USFWS” and ended with “your criticism of Dan isn’t helping.”

My position was always a simple one: while I liked Dan Ashe, I didn’t trust him. Ashe had lifelong experience with the agency, but was just too-cozy with anti-hunting and fishing groups.

After he told me face-to-face the USFWS planned on doing something, then was “unavailable for comment” when the agency did exactly the opposite, I reconsidered my considering him an “even-handed career administration who understands his agency” and realized he’d be better classified as a “career political appointee”.

Last week, as Ashe dropped a little parting gift for hunters and anglers: Director’s Order 219, “Use of Non-Toxic Ammo and Fishing Tackle”. His final directive says that ammunition and tackle containing lead will be forbidden on all USFWS lands within five years, sooner if possible.

In a nutshell, it’s Ashe’s coming out of the closet. Too-politic to deal with the fallout of making such a ruling sooner, he stalled, waiting until he was on his way out the door to issue Order 219.

“…ammunition and tackle containing lead will be forbidden on all USFWS lands within five years …”


Now, he’s off to his next position, and hunters and anglers are left to deal with his parting surprise.

And many of the same groups concerned over provoking Ashe before are feeling blindsided. True, Ashe never came out and said what he felt about “the lead issue” but his reluctance to take a position was probably an indication of his true feelings. Giving him the benefit of a doubt was, in hindsight, an error in judgement.

Friday, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies issued a statement expressing “utter dismay” with the release of Order 219. Association President Nick Wiley said “this action flies squarely in the face of a long and constructive tradition of states working in partnership with the Service to effectively manage wildlife resources.”

Wiley went on to call Ashe’s Order 219 “a breach of trust” and “deeply disappointing” given that it was a “complete surprise and there was no current dialogue or input from state fish and wildlife agencies prior to issuance.”

No kidding.

Ashe didn’t care about “input” – his less than enthusiastic support for “traditional” ammunition during his tenure always indicated his leanings to the contrary.

And he was never overly concerned about “federal overreach” or the “potential economic impact” on rural Americans. And “concurrent jurisdiction” – the idea of states and federal agencies cooperating when it came to management of migratory birds-was given more lip service than collaborative support.

I’m not saying the professional scientists at the USFWS don’t embrace the idea of concurrent jurisdiction, and they solidly support scientific-based management of federal lands. But the employees of the USFWS understand chain of command. And Ashe was- until Friday- the top of the chain. So, on Friday, he issued what is – unless and until a new director reverses it- the official USFWS position regarding “traditional” ammunition and fishing tackle: it will be gone from federal lands within 5 years.

Now, it’s up to outdoor groups to make it clear that Order 219 has to go.

Statements “decrying the decision” won’t get the job done. Nor will “science-based arguments”. This order will likely be tried in the court of public opinion- where emotion trumps facts.

Mainstream media won’t be receptive to science-based arguments – especially when it comes to lead. And anti-hunting and fishing groups will roll out their celebrities and “spontaneous protestors” to praise Order 219’s effort to stop poisoning our public lands.

Expect reporting to reflect that position- regardless of scientific facts to the contrary. And a Trump administration decision reversing an Obama appointee will be scrutinized for any hint of politics.

The timing of Order 219 wasn’t accidental.

And getting it reversed will probably require direct action – something many outdoor advocates don’t like. Having been chided for suggesting that hunters and anglers go on the offensive when attacked, they’re more likely to suggest a more subtle approach- and we may lose-again.

Order 219 has to go. And it must go as the result of direct action from all concerned parties . We now have a president that understands direct action – he regularly trolls his critics- taking his position directly to the people.

It’s time we stop walking quite so softly and begin wielding the big stick. Hunters, anglers, shooters and other outdoorsmen and women helped elect this president- and it took direct action to make that happen.

Winning an election only started the process of reversing bad decisions – now it’s time for everyone to buckle up and get busy. Order 219 is a good start.


This editorial appeared first in The Fishing Wire on January 25, 2017. Free subscriptions are available on the website at

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