By Ross Peter Nelson
“I’m on a horse.” No, that wasn’t the Old Spice guy, it was “Montana’s own” Ryan Zinke, newly installed Secretary of the Interior. He apparently felt the need to showboat a little, and so rode about a mile from the National Park Service’s stables on the National Mall to his new office at the Department of the Interior. And that’s fine, he should get to celebrate any way that makes him happy.
During his swearing in he stated, “I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people’ and will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits all Americans for generations to come.” That same day, however, his actions were significantly at odds with those words.
One of Zinke’s first official acts was to repeal a ban on the use of toxic lead ammunition on federal land. Theoretically this benefits hunters because of lower ammunition costs, but that appears to be an “alternate fact” promulgated by the NRA. A university study showed that non-toxic bullets were with their lead counterparts.
The science behind banning lead is unmistakable. Lead, which is responsible for poisoning the water of Flint, Michigan, and which was banned from gasoline over two decades ago, enters the environment at a rate of 100,000 tons per year due to hunting and fishing alone, That lead then poisons approximately , either directly by ingestion or indirectly by scavenging.
Nor does Zinke have any excuse for not being aware of the toxicity of lead. Just a few blocks from his Helena office, the offices of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality lie empty. The building that housed them was formerly a National Guard armory. It was abandoned after lead levels tested at over 40 times what is considered safe for humans, putting the employees at risk for brain damage, anemia, and kidney failure.
Zinke’s actions in repealing the lead ban do not reflect Montanans desire for healthy wildlife and a dynamic outdoor ecosystem. And they put to shame his pretensions to be placed along side a conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt. The real reason for his actions is to curry favor with the NRA, whose knee-jerk reaction is to oppose any government action that relates to guns in any way. Why not side with groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, and Sierra Club who see a lead-free habitat as better for both humans and wildlife.
“To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.” — Teddy Roosevelt