DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad fired a shot at his executive-branch agencies by issuing an order Friday rescinding a ban on lead ammunition by dove hunters. Branstad said he would not let them trump actions of elected officials by using “administrative fiat” to set rules that go beyond a law’s intended effect.
“We need to make sure that we stop this practice of agencies going beyond what’s been delegated to them and their responsibility,” Branstad said.
He signed an executive order clearing the way for hunters to use lead shot during Iowa’s 70-day dove-hunting season that opens Sept. 1.
Branstad said the state Natural Resources Commission clearly exceeded its authority when it made the decision in July to ban lead shot. He said the Iowa House had rejected that idea and the commission’s sole rule-making responsibility was to establish a new dove-hunting season.
“Today, I’m exercising my legal power as governor to rescind the ban on traditional shot by executive order,” he said. “We retain the part of the rule that sets the season and rescinding the part that exceeds the authority of this administrative agency.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, issued a statement condemning what he called a “power grab” by the Iowa governor.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Gov. Terry Branstad to overrule both the Legislature and the Natural Resources Commission by executive fiat and to thumb his nose at the people of Iowa," he said. "But Gov. Branstad apparently believes that politics should trump science, and that anything goes if the gun lobby demands it.”
The Legislature had an opportunity to rescind the ban during its 2012 regular session, but the Iowa Senate adjourned Wednesday without considering a House-passed resolution overturning the NRC action so Branstad stepped in to remove the prohibition. He said a majority of senators opposed the ban but the issue did not come up for a vote before the 84th General Assembly ended its 2012 work this week.
Marty Ryan, a legislative lobbyist with Fawkes-Lee & Ryan that represents the Lead is Poison Coalition, said the governor’s swift action after the Legislature adjourned without nullifying the lead shot ban rule was unexpected because state law allows the Natural Resources Commission to establish “the method of take” for hunting activities. He said the governor’s action also represented a decision to “pick and choose” what parts of the administrative rule he wanted to nullify, given that the commission also exceeded legislative intent by adding Eurasian collared doves to rules for a law that only authorized the hunting of mourning doves in Iowa.
“It’s terrible that he has a focus on something like this when we have hungry Iowans, we have all kinds of problems in this state, and he caters to a band of hunters,” Ryan added.
Opponents of the bill believe the lead-shot pellets contaminate the environment for other animals and pose a health risk to eagles, while hunting groups say steel shot costs more and doesn't work as well as lead shot.
“If you’re walking across a field pheasant hunting and a dove comes over you, you don’t have time to change shot,” said Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, a hunting enthusiasts who joined other legislators and sportsmen decked out in orange apparel to watch the governor take what Branstad called “historic” action.
Dearden said the push against ban is more of an “anti-hunting” effort by opponents who think that “if we can make it more and more difficult for hunters, there’s going to be less and less hunters.” However, proponents of the lead shot ban have cited environmental concerns about lead and noted that it already has been removed from gasoline, paint and toys due to health concerns.
Dearden said he was not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, chose not to take up the nullification resolution in the Senate, but he was “happy with the result, not necessarily the process” after Friday’s outcome.
“If it wasn’t for Sen. Gronstal, we wouldn’t have a dove bill right now. We would not be hunting mourning doves in Iowa if it wasn’t for him,” Dearden noted.
Branstad said he could have taken the action last year but he chose to let the Legislature address it during the 2012 session. When the Senate did not act, the governor used a provision of the Iowa Code that allows him to rescind an adopted rule by executive order within 70 days of the rule becoming effective.
Gronstal noted that Branstad initially have his approval to NRC members to address the issue – something the governor said occurred before he knew the legislative history of the issue. “I guess the governor was for non-toxic shot before he was against it. I suspect there’s a little election-year politics being played on this,” said Gronstal, who noted he didn’t bring up the resolution because his caucus was deeply divided on the issue.
The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit challenging a legislative committee in the dispute over the use of lead shot for Iowa dove hunting, but Branstad -- who is an attorney -- said he and his legal advisor believe his action Friday makes that “a moot case. I think this action basically ends it.”