On his first full day in office Thursday, newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a horse to work and proceeded to repeal a rule that protected plants and animals from lead poisoning.
The former Montana congressman's order (pdf) overturned a policy put into place by former Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) director Dan Ashe on January 19, before the Obama administration left office, that banned the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in FWS wildlife refuges and other federal lands that allow hunting or fishing.
He also signed a separate order asking other agencies under his purview to come up with ways to make federal lands more accessible for recreational use, saying it "worries" him to think about hunting and fishing becoming a sport of the "land-owning elite."
According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), spent lead ammunition causes poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals, and hundreds of reports have been written about the dangers of lead exposure to wildlife. The center said Zinke's swift action repealing the ban came in response to pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which spent $30 million on ads promoting President Donald Trump's election.
"Switching to nontoxic ammunition should be a no-brainer to save the lives of thousands birds and other wildlife, prevent hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead, and protect our water," said Jonathan Evans, CBD's environmental health legal director.
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"It's ironic that one of the first actions by Secretary Zinke, who fancies himself a champion of hunters and anglers, leads to poisoning of game and waterfowl eaten by those same hunting families," said Evans. "It's another sad day for public health and wildlife under the Trump presidency when special interests again prevail over common-sense environmental safeguards."
Zinke's gung-ho start to his first day in office comes after environmental groups expressed outrage over his confirmation on Wednesday, describing the former congressman from Montana as a "foe of endangered species" and warning that his voting record shows he "couldn't care less about our wildlife, climate, or public lands."
Indeed, Zinke has voted against endangered species protections 100 percent of the time and has taken donations from the fossil fuel industry. Ahead of the confirmation vote in February, 170 environmental organizations sent a letter to the Senate urging them to reject him.
"Zinke is another climate science-denier with ties to Big Oil who won't lift a finger for real climate action. His agenda will put communities in danger and, if the coal moratorium is lifted, would spell disaster for the climate," said May Boeve, executive director of the climate group 350.org, in response to his confirmation.
The horse was named Tonto.