DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad signed an executive order Friday legalizing the use of lead shot in the hunting of doves, rescinding last year's action by the State Natural Resources Commission. Mourning dove hunters will be able to use lead shot during the 70-day season, which opens Sept. 1.
Last year, the commission approved a rule that banned lead shot for dove hunting, concluding the shot was toxic and contaminates the environment for other animals. The Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee postponed the rule, giving lawmakers a chance to pass a law that would allow lead shot. While the House passed a resolution this session, the measure died in the Senate.
Branstad said when the Legislature passed the dove hunting law last year, it gave the commission authority to set the season but not to set restrictions on the type of ammunition. He said the commission, which is appointed by the governor, overstepped its authority.
Greg Drees, the chairman of the Natural Resources Commission, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Branstad said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal did not bring up the issue in the Senate as he had promised.
“I'm basically correcting the failure to act on the part of the Senate on this critical issue,” he said.
Gronstal had no immediate comment. His spokesman referred reporters to Assistant Senate Majority Leader Bill Dotzler of Waterloo.
Dotzler said Gronstal discussed the issue with his Democratic caucus early in the session and had considered bringing it up for a floor vote, but a majority of Democrats didn't want to move the issue forward.
“I think the Legislature acted,” Dotzler said. “It's unfortunate that the governor chose to overrule that. It makes you wonder why anyone would want to serve on a commission when they're being second-guessed by the governor.”
Dotzler said evidence shows that lead is toxic to the environment and that's why it has been removed from gasoline and paint. He said the commission studied the issue and concluded that lead shot leads to environmental problems, such as the poisoning of eagles and other birds of prey.
Hunting groups say steel shot costs more and doesn't work as well.
Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, a hunter who has pushed for years for dove hunting in Iowa, said banning lead shot is a ploy by anti-hunting groups to discourage the sport.
“If we make it more and more difficult for hunters, there will be less and less hunters,” he said. “As far as eagles are concerned, there's lead shot being used for target shooting, for trap shooting, and for thousands of different uses with guns. It's been around since the Europeans invaded North America in 1492, and we still have a lot of birds.”
The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit over the issue, claiming the Administrative Rules Review Committee overstepped its power when it delayed implementation of the ban.
Neila Seaman, director of the Iowa chapter, said the group will review the case with attorneys. She said that the governor has always said the issue should be decided by the Legislature and that Friday's actions contradict that.
“It seems to me the Legislature spoke when the Senate chose not to debate these resolutions,” she said.
Branstad said Friday his order renders the lawsuit moot.
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