The Biden administration’s latest move to prohibit certain equipment used by hunters on federal refuges has drawn strong opposition from sportsmen groups. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its 2023-2024 hunting and fishing rule, which includes a ban on cost-effective lead ammunition and fishing tackle across eight national wildlife refuges by 2026. While this decision has been applauded by eco groups, hunters argue that it could serve as a backdoor attack on hunting in general.
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, criticized the rule, stating that it lacks sound scientific evidence and undermines conservation funding. He accused the administration of disregarding its promise to “follow the science” and instead pursuing an anti-gun and anti-hunting agenda.
According to the FWS, the rule was formulated based on the “best available science,” which reportedly demonstrates the negative impacts of lead equipment on human health and wildlife. The ban on lead ammunition and tackle will apply to federally managed refuges across various states, starting from September 1, 2026.
Critics argue that the Biden administration is trying to take credit for expanding hunting and fishing access while simultaneously implementing bans on lead ammunition and tackle that create significant cost barriers for sportsmen and women. They claim that such barriers hinder Americans from enjoying hunting and fishing activities on public lands.
The Biden administration’s stance on hunting and fishing regulations has faced scrutiny in the past. Environmental group Center for Biological Diversity sued the government over a Trump administration rule that expanded hunting and fishing on millions of acres of federal land. Instead of defending the rule, the Biden administration sought a delay in the court proceedings and eventually reached a settlement with the group, which included a commitment to expand lead ammunition prohibitions.
Sportsmen groups and industry associations have expressed disappointment with the continuation of restrictions on tackle and ammunition. They argue that any limitations should be based on sound scientific evidence specific to wildlife populations and developed in consultation with state fish and wildlife agencies.
Hunting groups are urging Congress to pass the Protecting Access for Hunters and Anglers Act, which would prevent agencies like the FWS, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management from banning lead ammunition or tackle without strong scientific support. They emphasize the importance of ensuring that decisions regarding hunting and fishing regulations are grounded in evidence-based approaches.