Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 30, 2022


Camila Cossío, (832) 933-5404,

Endangered Wildlife Win Protections From Lead on National Wildlife Refuges

WASHINGTON— A federal judge today ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take measures to protect endangered wildlife harmed by expanded hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges. The protections include phasing out the use of poisonous lead ammunition and tackle at several refuges across the country.

The legal victory resolves a lawsuit filed last year by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the Trump administration’s decision to expand hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres across 147 wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries.

“This win protects endangered wildlife on refuges that were specifically created to protect them,” said Camila Cossío, staff attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service knows that using lead ammunition and tackle poisons wildlife and people. I’m hopeful that the protections stemming from this lawsuit are just the beginning.”

Use of lead ammunition and tackle can poison endangered animals like whooping cranes that ingest lead when feeding in fields and waterways. The Center’s lawsuit precipitated an upcoming requirement that will require the public use non-lead ammunition and fishing tackle at Indiana’s Patoka National Wildlife Refuge, where endangered whooping cranes live.

Evidence of the dangers of lead continues to grow. A 2022 scientific study found that half of bald and golden eagles are suffering from chronic, toxic levels of lead due to lead ammunition.

Because of the lawsuit, the Service has also committed to a proposed phaseout of lead use on numerous national wildlife refuges in the eastern U.S. These include the Blackwater, Eastern Neck and Patuxent refuges in Maryland, the Chincoteague and Wallops Island refuges in Virginia, the Erie refuge in Pennsylvania, the Great Thicket refuge in Massachusetts and the Rachel Carson refuge in Maine.

Earlier this year, the Center and its partners filed a formal legal petition calling on the U.S. Department of the Interior to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on all national wildlife refuges. Today’s win requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to this petition by June 1, 2023.

“Phasing out the use of lead ammunition and tackle on refuges is a commonsense way to help wildlife that already face so many threats to their survival,” said Cossío. “We’re going to keep doing everything we can to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt a nationwide phaseout of toxic lead. Only then can refuges truly be safe havens for wildlife.”

In addition to dangers from lead, the Center’s lawsuit prompted the Service to address other risks facing endangered wildlife that live in areas open to hunting on refuges. For example, the Service now warns hunters targeting black bears in grizzly bear territory in Montana’s Swan River National Wildlife Refuge to carry bear spray. This measure reduces the risk of hunters shooting the rare bears in self-defense.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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