The Iowa legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee lived up to its unofficial nickname today: "Where good rules go to die." Nine of the ten lawmakers on the panel voted to delay a proposed ban on lead shot for dove hunting until after next year's legislative session. It's a safe bet that before then, legislators will pass a bill allowing hunters to use any kind of ammunition to kill doves.
The Iowa House and Senate ended a nearly century-old ban on mourning dove hunting this year, using some tricks to avoid the normal legislative process. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources drafted rules for a 70-day dove hunting season from September 1 through November 9. The legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee, composed of five state representatives and five state senators, approved those rules in May.
Last month, the Iowa Natural Resource Commission voted unanimously to ban lead shot for dove hunting. The seven members were concerned about the impact on animals that eat carrion and can be harmed by ingesting lead. Those same concerns prompted the federal government to ban lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991.
The National Rifle Association put out an action alert asking members to contact Governor Terry Branstad, who has the authority to overturn rules proposed by the Natural Resource Commission. NRA members appear to have influenced Branstad on this issue:
Gregory Drees, chairman of the Natural Resources Commission, said panel members were under the impression they had the governor's backing when they unanimously approved the lead-shot ban in July. However, he said Branstad apparently had a change of heart since his representative at today's committee meeting said the governor believed the decision rested with the Legislature.
"This is an issue I feel the Legislature should decide on, not a commission," Branstad said in an interview earlier this month. "The Legislature authorized a dove-hunting season, but this issue of lead shot is a separate issue and it seems to me that's an issue the Legislature decide."
Sierra Club Iowa Chapter Director Neila Seaman attended today's Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting and reported,
Willie Suchy, of Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Unit, and Greg Drees, Natural Resource Commission (NRC) chair, presented information to the legislators about the rule and public comment. Drees mentioned that one of the NRC members (Conrad Clement) had talked to Gov. Branstad a couple of hours before the meeting and discussed the amendment he planned to propose requiring alternative ammunition. Clement said Branstad told him if there was consensus among the commissioners, he would support it.
In a complete about face, Brenna Findley, the Governor's staff assigned to the committee, stated that "The Governor's position is and always has been that the decision belongs to the legislature."
Findley had the NRA's endorsement for her attorney general campaign last year, so it's a no-brainer she would advise the governor to take this position. Really, Drees and the other Natural Resource Commission members should never have expected Branstad to back them up. In April of this year, the governor overturned a broader ban on lead shot in certain areas, as the NRA had asked him to do.
As it happens, the governor didn't need to take action on dove hunting ammunition. Today's Administrative Rules Review Committee vote means that the proposed rule can't be implemented until the state legislature has adjourned from its 2012 session. Hunting enthusiasts in both parties will make sure a bill is passed before then to allow the use of lead shot. When the Iowa House considered the dove hunting bill this year, members rejected an amendment that would have banned lead ammunition. Some senior Democrats in the Iowa Senate are on record opposing the Natural Resource Commission's proposed rule, including Senate President Jack Kibbie and State Senator Dick Dearden. Dearden claims "no science" supports banning lead ammunition, despite ample evidence that bald eagles and other wildlife are harmed by ingesting lead shot.
Hunters won't be restricted in their choice of ammunition during this year's dove hunting season. If for some reason the legislature fails to pass a bill regulating ammunition for hunting doves, the ban on lead shot would apply to the season that runs from September 1 to November 9, 2012.
Democratic State Representative Jo Oldson was the only member of the Administrative Rules Review Committee to vote against delaying implementation of the lead shot rule. The nine members who voted for the delay were Democratic Senators Wally Horn, Tom Courtney, and Jack Kibbie, GOP Senators James Seymour and Merlin Bartz, GOP State Representatives Dawn Pettengill, Dave Heaton, and Guy Vander Linden, and Democratic State Representative Rick Olson.
According to Seaman, four lawmakers who do not serve on the rules review committee spoke during today's meeting. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman supported the proposed ban on lead ammunition. Dearden and GOP State Representatives Henry Rayhons and Clel Baudler opposed the rule, which they depicted as anti-hunting. A national NRA board member, Baudler will probably be a leading force behind legislation next year to allow all kinds of ammunition for hunting in Iowa. The NRA's top Iowa legislative priority became law in 2010, but thanks in part to a mishap with a live mic in the Iowa House, nothing on the group's legislative agenda for 2011 made it through both chambers.
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UPDATE: From a sidebar in the Des Moines Register on August 19:
What does the science say?
Lead pellets in shotgun shells are poisonous. When a hunter shoots at an animal, these pellets are scattered all over. Wildlife ingesting a few of these tiny pellets can be poisoned to death. Studies reviewed by the Iowa Natural Resource Commission and shared with the Des Moines Register editorial page found:
• Unlike other upland-game hunting, mourning dove hunting "can deposit large quantities of lead shot on relatively small areas." Research has shown that 860,185 lead pellets were deposited on managed fields in New Mexico, 27,515 pellets in Indiana and 6,342 pellets in Missouri. "Mourning doves feeding in these managed fields ingest lead shots because the spent shotgun pellets appear similar to weed and grain seeds."
• As previous research has suggested, free-ranging mourning doves ingest spent lead pellets, succumb to lead poisoning and die "in a relatively short time." Wildlife management agencies should develop a "long-term strategic plan aimed at implementing a nontoxic shot regulation for mourning dove hunting."
The editorial page also contacted the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks agency because the debate over lead shot versus steel shot has raged there for several years. According to information distributed by the state of Montana:
• Each year about 6,000 pounds of lead shot are deposited into the environment by waterfowl hunters - killing an estimated 2 to 3 million birds each year from lead sot ingestion. "Losses of this magnitude nearly equal the annual duck harvest in the Central Flyway."
• "Studies show that significant numbers of endangered bald eagles also have died from lead poisoning since 1980." These eagles died after ingesting lead shot while eating waterfowl tissues containing lead pellets.