Posts misconstrue draft US hunting, fishing regulations

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Social media users are claiming President Joe Biden has proposed a ban on hunting and fishing in several US states. This is false; the posts misconstrue draft regulations that would place limits on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in some federal wildlife refuges.

"Did you know that our president is trying to ban hunting and fishing? Yeah, you heard me right -- Biden is trying to ban hunting and fishing in several states," says Brittany Scovel in a video published May 7, 2023.

"This is just another way to keep us fucking controlled. They're literally going to make it to where we have to eat what is sold in stores."

The clip from Scovel, an Iowa-based TikTok creator who describes herself as an outdoorswoman, amassed more than 470,000 views. Similar claims have circulated on Instagram and Twitter.

<span>Screenshot from TikTok taken May 9, 2023</span>
Screenshot from TikTok taken May 9, 2023

The posts appear to reference draft guidelines from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that will reportedly expand the area where lead ammunition and fishing tackle will be prohibited.

The agency in September 2022 finalized a rule (archived here) requiring non-lead ammunition in Indiana's Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge by fall 2026. The FWS is expected to propose this summer expanding those regulations to other federal refuges.

Sportsman's groups have criticized the Biden administration, saying the draft restrictions would raise costs associated with outdoor recreation. Meanwhile, Republicans in the US Senate have introduced a bill that would prevent federal agencies from banning lead ammunition or tackle on public lands unless scientists and state agencies support it.

But contrary to some posts and articles shared online, there is "no evidence that the Biden administration is attempting or would attempt to completely ban hunting or fishing," according to Sandra Zellmer, director of natural resources clinics at the University of Montana School of Law.

In that regard, the US Department of the Interior in August 2021 expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across 2.1 million acres of federally-managed lands and waters -- the "largest expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities in recent history," according to the FWS. One year later, the Biden administration created the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council to advise the federal government on outdoor recreation.

Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), said the Biden administration "has been supportive and solicitous of hunters and anglers on wildlife conservation," describing the draft regulations cited online as a "very narrow effort by the Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce lead poisoning of wildlife on national wildlife refuges."

The potential policy shift stems in part from a November 2022 settlement (archived here) in which the FWS agreed to expand lead ammunition limits across various wildlife refuges. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, had sued the federal government over a Trump administration rule (archived here) that offered more hunting and fishing on federal lands.

Lead ammunition and tackle have been in the FWS's sights for the past few decades. The products can poison animals including bald eagles and condors, which feed on carcasses that hunters leave behind.

"This is a major reason such birds are imperiled, and that fact is well-established," said John Leshy, a professor emeritus at the University of California-Hastings School of Law who served as solicitor of the US Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration.

The NWF said in comments on the FWS's 2022 rule that scientists "have documented negative impacts from lead hunting and fishing products on wildlife, including species-specific population-level impacts." Several environmental groups have advocated for phasing out lead ammunition and tackle.

"Lead can cause a variety of sublethal effects such as neurological, tissue and organ damage, reproductive impairment and behavioral changes," the nonprofit Wildlife Society said in a June 2022 statement. "At lethal levels it causes paralysis and eventual death."

Cost concerns

Some sportsman's groups have expressed concerns about placing limits on hunting and fishing equipment.

"There's no good, cost-efficient substitute for lead," said Benjamin Cassidy, director of government affairs at Safari Club International, during a May 1 Fox News broadcast.

The nonprofit Sportsmen's Alliance similarly said in a September 2022 statement that "non-lead alternatives are more expensive, are not widely available and can be less effective than traditional lead ammunition."

Still, banning lead ammunition and tackle "does not ban hunting" because steel shot and other alternatives are available, Leshy said in a May 9 email.

Such ammunition can cost more, but the NWF's Leahy said that may be changing as more companies make the switch.

"When I went hunting last fall, I went into Walmart in Michigan and steel shot was basically the same price or even a few cents less than lead shot," he said. "One of the big claims was that it was more expensive, and that is true in some cases. But prices are equalizing."

The FWS declined to comment for this article.

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about the environment here.