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Lead Ammo Use Still Under Legal Attack

Several anti-hunting groups sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2012, alleging that the Forest Service violated the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) by allowing the use of lead ammunition for hunting in Kaibab National Forest.  RCRA is a federal statute that governs the generation and disposal of hazardous waste and solid waste. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council alleged that spent ammunition left by hunters in the Forest is “solid waste” governed by RCRA and, that it harms California condors who allegedly ingest the lead when they scavenge dead animals and gut piles. 

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The plaintiffs wanted the court to prohibit the use of lead ammunition in the Kaibab National Forest and on other federal lands.  Safari Club International and the NRA moved to intervene to defend hunting in the Forest and all federal lands where lead ammunition is used.   

Before ruling on the motion to intervene, the Arizona federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit in 2013.  The anti-hunting groups then appealed to the Ninth Circuit.  Safari Club and the NRA filed a joint amicus brief in support of the Forest Service in the appellate court. 

In early 2016, the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the district court.  Safari Club and the NRA were permitted to intervene. SCI argued that the plaintiffs’ suit should be dismissed.  After considering the SCI and NRA motion as well as the Forest Service motion, the district court dismissed the case again in 2017.

Once again, the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit.  And once again, in May 2019, the Ninth Circuit resuscitated the case by reversing the second dismissal and sending it back to the district court.  After more than seven years of litigation, the district court presumably will consider the merits of the case.  Safari Club and the NRA will, once again, participate in the case to defend hunting in Kaibab National Forest.

This case could have impacts well beyond Arizona.  If the plaintiffs succeed, the Forest Service and other federal agencies will have to consider how the ruling impacts hunting and the use of lead ammunition on federal lands across the U.S.  A successful result may also embolden anti-hunters to raise creative new claims under statutes, like RCRA, that do not on their face appear to apply to hunting. 

Safari Club’s legal advocacy team will continue to defend hunting and hunter rights against such challenges.

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