Not too long ago I wrote about the need for Congress to just get off the stick and confirm Ryan Zinke as the next Secretary of the Interior. In a rare bit of good news, that actually happened this week. One of the key selling points for Zinke as I saw it was his long history as an avid sportsman and proponent of sound conservation policies. It didn’t take long for the new secretary to get off to a running start and begin taking concrete actions in those directions. (NRA Institute for Legislative Action)

Zinke got right down to business on his very first day, signing two orders to promote hunting and to expand access to public lands.

Secretarial Order. No. 3346 repealed the Obama administration’s parting shot to hunters, which had been a plan to phase out, by the year 2022, the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on lands, waters, and facilities administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service…

Secretary Zinke’s second order, No. 3347, seeks to “enhance conservation stewardship, increase outdoor recreation, and improve the management of game species and their habitat.” It recognizes recreational hunters and anglers as leaders in America’s conversation movement and invokes Theodore Roosevelt, who “loved the outdoors and vigorously hunted wildlife”.

Specifically, the order requires a report of all steps taken to implement a directive issued by President George W. Bush, “Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation,” as well as a description of any barriers or impediments to its full implementation. These reports will then be submitted to the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council to solicit each group’s own consensus recommendations for implementation of the Bush directive.

Both of these were welcome initiatives by the Department of the Interior and well within the realm of that agency’s authority. Taking them in reverse order, the investigation into what’s been holding up the Bush era initiatives to open up and preserve hunting lands is long overdue. There was not only insufficient action on this front under the Obama administration, but more of an attitude of attempting to stymie these efforts. With a bit of accountability and assigning names to those responsible it looks as if Zinke will be able to get this ball rolling in short order.

The first action he took (regarding lead ammunition) was simply the rolling back of one of many of Barack Obama’s “midnight regulatory moves” put in place shortly before he left office. The question of banning lead ammunition for hunters is a complicated one, but this was simply the right thing to do. Nobody’s arguing that lead is “good” for human beings, plants and animals under any circumstances, but we also have to maintain a bit of perspective and listen to scientists on that score. Lead ammunition has been used for a long time for very good reasons and effective replacements are problematic in their own right.

It’s quite simple to scare a lot of people when you start talking about lead being released into the natural environment. That’s what environmentalists have been doing when describing the dangers of animals ingesting lead shot either through grazing or the scavenging of carcasses. But it’s equally important to remember that there are different types of lead used in manufacturing and they produce different results. This article from 2014 written by Susan Recce, director of conservation, wildlife and natural resources for the NRA, was published in response to a state level ban under discussion in the state of Oregon. She explains the key difference between the lead found in sporting ammunition and that used in other industrial activities. (Oregon Live)

The lead poisoning Tatro refers to is more likely due to an industrial lead compound, which is much different from the metallic lead used in ammunition. There is no scientific evidence that traditional lead ammunition threatens wildlife populations. Metallic lead used in ammunition is relatively insoluble in the digestive tract of organisms and does not possess the same soluble properties as industrial lead compounds (e.g., leaded gasoline, leaded paint). Thus, lead ammunition is quickly passed naturally through the digestive tract instead.

It is likely the industrial lead compounds are responsible for many of the highly publicized lead poisonings attributed to lead ammunition.

The five-year-old lead ammunition ban in the California condor region has proven ineffective.

It’s not as if the difference between metallic lead in ammunition and the more soluble industrial lead coming from various manufacturing processes wasn’t already well known. The government simply chose to ignore that detail because it was far more desirable to impose a ban on something which would make it more difficult to fire a gun. This is a repeating pattern that we saw under the Obama administration for years on end. Another great example can be found when it comes to regulations they passed on methane emissions resulting from fracking and other oil and natural gas exploration activities.

As I explained in the linked article, there are two distinct types of methane under consideration. Thermogenic methane is produced during fracking operations while biogenic methane comes from agricultural operations and the natural decay of plant matter all across the world. Thermogenic methane has been on the decline for years and is a negligible component of atmospheric changes while biogenic methane has been steadily on the rise. That didn’t stop the Obama administration from aggressively moving to try to restrict fracking all the same in the name of global warming.

Ryan Zinke is off to a good start at Interior. Let’s hope we see more of the same coming from the executive branch as the remaining cabinet seats and staff positions are filled and the new players get to work.