Hunters and fishermen deposit tens of thousands of tons of lead into our environment every year. This causes the deaths of between 10 and 20 million birds and other animals, representing more than 130 species, due to lead poisoning.
This is a tragedy that previous administrations have tried to address through environmentally friendly policies, while others have taken a contrary approach in the name of populism and political gain.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in 2017, a rule implemented on President Barack Obama’s last day in office, aimed at protecting birds and fish from lead poisoning. A few days later, following the arrival of former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on horseback, the ban on lead was rescinded.
“The revoked order would have stopped the needless, incidental poisoning of wild animals by toxic lead ammunition and fishing tackle on more than 150 million acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States told the Huffington Post.
The benefits of Zinke’s rule change were questionable at best. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said allowing lead ammunition and fishing tackle opens recreational opportunities to more than just wealthy landowners, but a 2012 study from the University of Guelph found the retail price for most calibers of lead bullets was comparable to their non-toxic counterparts.
“Lead alternatives are readily available, and comparably priced copper and steel ammunition outperform lead and do not keep killing days, weeks, and months after leaving the gun,” Pacelle wrote on the Humane Society of the United States blog. “In 1991, FWS required the use of non-lead shot for the hunting of waterfowl nationwide and within just 10 years, researchers found significant improvements in the blood and bone lead levels in a variety of waterfowl species. The use of nontoxic shot reduced the mortality of mallards by 64 percent, and saved approximately 1.4 million ducks in a single fall flight.”
Lead poisoning from ammo is one of the biggest reasons California condors remain on the endangered species list, The Peregrine Fund reports. California passed a bill to phase out all lead hunting ammunition by 2019, hoping to protect the condors and countless other species, but bald eagles and other scavengers in the central and eastern U.S. are still in great danger. Bullet fragments in carcasses can easily make their way into birds’ stomachs, making scavengers frequent victims of lead poisoning from lead ammunition.
Humans who consume animals killed with lead bullets are also at risk. According to a 2009 study from researchers at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, 59 of 100 randomly selected packages of ground venison donated to the Community Action Food Pantry in North Dakota in the fall of 2007 were contaminated with lead fragments.
“We’ve known for thousands of years that lead is a deadly toxin, yet it’s only in recent decades that we’ve taken it out of gasoline, paint, and other substances,” Pacelle wrote. “The lingering effects of lead pipes still pose hazards for communities, as we have seen in the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the larger debate over crumbling infrastructure in the United States. Why wouldn’t we also move to get lead out of the wildlife management profession, especially now that there are ready alternatives available to every single hunter and fisherman?”
A growing number of concerned individuals are now calling for a renewed ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle on public lands. Click the button below to join them in making a difference.Whizzco