Newly Proposed Hunt Fish Rule Both Helps and Hinders Hunting Access on Wildlife Refuges

June 28, 2023 By: Torin Miller

On June 22, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the proposed 2023 – 2024 Hunt Fish Rule – an annual rulemaking process undertaken by the USFWS intended to increase access and opportunity  for hunters and anglers within the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS).

The proposed rule does expand hunting within three NWRS units – Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota – resulting in 48 new hunting opportunities across 3,000 acres. However, the proposed rule seeks to ban the use of lead ammunition and tackle on eight NWRS units by 2026.

Certainly, the National Deer Association (NDA) supports the expansion of hunting opportunities on NWRS lands. The NWRS provides critical access opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women, and we appreciate the efforts of the USFWS to provide more access to these public lands and waters. However, by phasing out the use of lead ammunition and tackle on eight NWRS units, the USFWS could actually limit access to NWRS lands for hunters and anglers. The NDA shared similar concerns with the USFWS regarding the 2022-2033 Hunt Fish Rule.

While environmental concerns surrounding lead ammunition and tackle should be considered and monitored, the NDA believes that current science on these subjects does not warrant a full ban on the use of lead ammunition while hunting. In fact, an outright ban is neither logical nor feasible. Rather, the NDA believes that any transition from lead to non-lead ammunition for hunting should be voluntary and incentive based.  We believe resources would be better spent educating hunters and shooters about non-lead alternatives, the efficacy and availability of non-lead ammunition and providing incentives for hunters and shooters to switch from lead to non-lead ammunition.

Again, we appreciate USFWS’s proposal to expand hunting opportunities within the NWRS, but we do have concerns about the proposed phase-out of lead ammunition and tackle on eight NWRS units and the impact that such a phase-out would have on hunter and angler access.

The NDA will be submitting comments to the USFWS stating both our appreciation and concerns, and we encourage our members and supporters to do the same. Comments from the public on the proposed rule will be open through August 22, 2023, and should be submitted here.

About Torin Miller:

Torin Miller is a licensed attorney and NDA’s Senior Director of Policy. He works at the intersection of conservation and natural resources law, policy, advocacy and education. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a J.D. from Penn State Law. Torin came to NDA via the National Deer Alliance, where he served as the Policy and Outreach Coordinator.