Schultz, J.H., S.A. Wilhelm Stanis, D.M. Hall and E.B. Webb. 2021. Until it's a regulation, it's just not my fight: Complexities of a voluntary nonlead hunting ammunition program. Journal of Environmental Management 277:111438
Wildlife and human health are at risk of lead exposure from lead ammunition used for deer hunting. Lead exposure persists for bald eagles due to bullet fragments in game animal gut piles and unretrieved carcasses, and is also a human health risk when venison is procured using lead ammunition. Programs encouraging the voluntary use of nonlead ammunition have become a popular approach mitigating these effects. This study explored attitudes and experiences of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) staff implementing an outreach program encouraging deer hunters to voluntary use nonlead ammunition on 54 National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) in the Upper Midwest U.S. to understand factors affecting program implementation by field staff. During 2017–2019, we conducted 29 semi-structured interviews of FWS staff along with 365 responses from an open-ended question on an online survey. Twelve themes emerged from the data and grouped into three broad categories: (1) challenges of dealing with complex issues, (2) importance of messengers and messages, and (3) push-back from staff. Challenges of dealing with complex included administrative restraint and uncertainty, scope and scale of program, human health not an agency responsibility, contextual political influences, and public-private collaborations. Importance of messengers and messages included the importance of experience, and salience of human health risk. Finally, push-back from staff included skepticism of the science and motives behind the program, competing priorities for refuge staff, differing perceptions of regulatory and voluntary approaches, cost and availability of nonlead ammunition, and disregard by some about lead ammunition and human health risks. These findings suggest staff identified numerous challenges implementing a voluntary nonlead ammunition program, many of which are external factors beyond the control of the participants. Understanding the factors and their influence on program implementation may help guide a more rigorous program evaluation examining long-term efforts encouraging the voluntary use of nonlead ammunition by deer hunters.