New Interior head lifts lead ammunition ban in nod to hunters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday issued an order overturning an Obama administration ban on the controversial use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on federal lands and waters, in a nod to hunters and fishermen on his first day on the job.

Zinke, who was a first-term Montana Congressman and a former Navy SEAL, arrived for his first day at work at the Interior Department in Washington on a horse named Tonto escorted by mounted U.S. Park Police officers.

Zinke, an avid angler and hunter, lifted the lead ammunition ban in one of two secretarial orders, which he said were meant to “expand access to public lands and increase hunting, fishing, and recreation opportunities nationwide.”

President Barack Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service had issued the lead ban on Jan. 19, one day before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to protect birds and fish from lead poisoning. The move was met with sharp criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which called it Obama’s “final assault on gun owners’ and sportsmen’s rights.”

The Interior Department, which is in charge of conserving fish, wildlife and their habitat, manages one-fifth of the land in the United States. It employs more than 70,000 people across the United States.

Zinke also signed an order on Thursday that would direct federal agencies to identify areas where recreation and fishing can be expanded and sought recommendations for expanding access to public lands and improving fishing and wildlife habitat.

“This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community’s voice is heard,” he said.

The NRA, as well as hunting and fishing groups including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership attended the signing of the orders.

Zinke said that fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation activities “generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.”

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Sandra Maler