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July 30, 2020

EU Lead Ban: Muddy Waters in Wetlands for Hunters and Recreational Shooters

By Larry Keane

Shotguns have a deeply rooted history in Europe among sportsmen, farmers and ranchers. Historically these firearms have used traditional components in their loadings that includes lead shot. Anti-hunting groups in Europe and the U.S. have increasingly blamed traditional ammunition for all sorts of evils, with zero evidence that the use has had an impact on human health, the environment or wildlife populations.

This politically motivated activism has prompted the European Commission (EC) to request the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prepare a restriction of lead shot over wetlands. The resulting draft currently under consideration by the EC restricting traditional ammunition in wetlands has left many representatives of shooters, hunters and member states baffled at the broad, irrational proposal.

No Evidence and Unenforceable.

Apart from the fact that there is no evidence supporting a ban on the use or possession of traditional ammunition in Europe, the proposal is riddled with unenforceable, sweeping rules that hold broad implications for shooters and hunters in the EU. One of the most glaring problems with the proposal is its use of Ramsar to regulate a wetland by the definition of “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.” Using Ramsar as a basis for categorization is evident of the intent on the ban, to eliminate hunting and shooting in the EU, not to protect the environment. Wetlands are diverse ecosystems with very specific conditions to remain categorized, not a political tool to impose restrictions. Expanding the definition of wetland to meet practically all conditions of the outdoors severely limits hunters. Under the definition, for example, water sitting in tire tracks after recent rainfall qualifies as a wetland.

Compounding the problem is the designated one-hundred-meter buffer zone around this poorly defined wetland. As the rule prohibits hunters from even possessing traditional ammunition in their pack or pocket when traversing through a wetland and corresponding buffer zone, compliance would be nearly impossible. If a sportsman were shooting clay pigeons and he unknowingly walked through a buffer zone with traditional ammunition in his pocket, he would be in violation of this new rule. Enforcing this new restriction would be very onerous and convoluted as it leaves so much to interpretation and offers no legal certainty.

Presumption of Guilt.

The current draft presumes that hunters and shooters are noncomplying and places the burden of proof on the individual. The presumption of innocence is protected for individuals under the European Convention on Human Rights. Expanding the scope outside of the individual, member states should also be troubled, as the regulation currently does not have any exemption for military and law enforcement. This ban on traditional lead shot in wetlands can spell big trouble for not only hunters, but also for conservationists and law enforcement branches of member states, creating confusion for all parties involved. This issue is continuing to develop and there are many outcomes leaving those with vested interest on the edge of their seats.

Delayed for Now.

While a vote was expected earlier this month, the Czech Republic has intervened and asked the EC to stop voting on the Europe-wide ban based on the definition of wetlands in the current draft. The months-long process is considered finished without result and negotiators now anticipate a new vote to take place in September.

If the EC approves the draft, it then heads to the European Parliament, where sportsmen and women face an uphill battle against this irrational and harmful proposal.

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