The man who heads up the New River Gorge National River says he realizes the concern spawned by the Park Service’s new "lead free" policy. The NPS issued an order from the top that all park service personnel must rid themselves of lead products on the job, including the bullets used in Rangers’ side arms and any fishing tackle used in Park waters. It’s an in-house restriction for now, but Don Stryker, Superintendent of the New River Gorge area knows, it’s probably only a matter of time before it’s extended to the public.
"I know there’s a two tiered objective," said Stryker in a recent appearance on West Virginia Outdoors. "The objective is very clear to remove lead from the eco system, at least lead used by hunters and fishermen. Legally we can only do that with our own staff, we can’t insist that the people who are hunting and fishing switch to lead-free alternatives without issuing a special rule."
A special rule is a complicated process requiring considerable public comment and input. Stryker finds himself in the unenviable position of having to serve two masters. On the one hand, he’s obligated by his job to carry out duties from the boss in Washington. However, he’s also forced to deal with the fallout, which results in his backyard. It’s a nearly impossible position.
"The starting point has to be the science, it has to be the underpinning of any decision we make,” said Stryker. "We aren’t supposed to be making decisions that aren’t based on sound science."
"Sound science" can often be a very loosely interpreted term however, many times molded to fit an agenda. Stryker says he wants to guard against that possibility in his park where hunting and fishing are both allowed and both huge parts of the park’s visitor makeup.
"Frankly, I’m not articulate on it,” said Stryker. "I know kind of the basics of lead pollution."
Conservation groups across the country however, weren’t letting their powder stay dry when the national headquarters issued its recent edict about a lead free agency. Many are armed with the science they claim finds no measureable difference in the ecosystem when lead bullets and lead fishing tackle are used. The biggest impact on sportsmen will be in the pocket. The non-lead alternatives are materials such as copper, brass, steel, and tungsten. They are expensive products that only promise to increase the cost of hunting and fishing.
"At least in terms of this year, it’s an internal exercise only," Stryker said. "The goal however is to extend it to all of the public that’s fishing or hunting in any unit of the National Park System."
Stryker isn’t sure how the rule-making process will unfold. It’s unclear if that will evolve in Washington and blanket all units of the NPS or if the rules will be made on a park-by-park basis, where local officials will have more input on the process.
"I don’t want there to be any concern that this is some kind of conspiracy that we’re trying to get rid of hunters and fishermen,” said Stryker. "Frankly our ecosystem needs them."