Groups Challenge Lead Ammo Ban Exemption for Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge

A Mountain View with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy logo

On July 31, 2023, three conservation groups filed a suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to cancel its plans to phase out lead ammunition at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. 

The Biden Administration proposed a plan to phase out lead ammunition at ten specific refuges in June 2022, including Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but then abandoned that plan for Canaan Valley when West Virginia officials objected. The Wildlife Resources Section contended that non-lead ammo is often unavailable and far more expensive than lead ammunition and is incompatible with some firearms. Banning lead ammo, the state agency contended, would diminish its ability to manage wildlife by reducing the number of hunters seeking game from the refuge. 

The phase out was implemented at nine other refuges and is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2026.

The federal court suit filed by the Friends of Blackwater, the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, contends that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to include Canaan Valley in the ammo ban ignores the evidence of well-known risks to both human health and wildlife from lead ammunition.

“Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge contains a unique high mountain wetland habitat supporting a diverse array of birds and many game species,” said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater. “Hunting on the refuge whether for ducks or deer attracts many hunters. The downside of this sport for our famous raptors is that lead shot used by some of these hunters is poisoning hawks and eagles. We are asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop this dangerous practice so these wild animals can survive and thrive.”