Endangered California condors have been the poster birds for calls to get lead ammunition out of our environment, but they might have to make some room for our nation’s most iconic raptors thanks to a new study showing how lead ammunition is also harming bald eagles.
It might be illegal to hunt bald eagles, but a study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigating the link between lead ammunition and bald eagle deaths in the Upper Mississippi River U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which spans across Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, shows they’re dying as a result of hunters and has led to more calls to protect wildlife from this toxic shot.
In 2011, researchers started a study to assess lead exposure in the upper midwest to see it if was related to ammunition and found that of 168 eagles they found dead, concentrations of lead were found in 48 percent of the livers and 21 percent had lead concentrations that were considered lethal.
They concluded that eagles were feeding on gut piles from deer and other animals left behind by hunters after examining the remains from 25 animals and found that they had from as little as one fragment to as many as 107 fragments per pile. It only takes a little to be toxic to an eagle, and one that is suffering the effects of poisoning is a heartbreaking sight.
Ed Britton, the manager of the refuge’s Savanna, Ill. district, told the Quad-City Times that they’re concerned with the potential long-term impacts on the thousands of bald eagles who winter and nest on the refuge and that other wild animals are also being exposed. He added that he hopes when hunters see the data they’ll make the switch to non-lead ammo on their own.
Thanks to the latest effort to get lead ammunition out of our environment, hunters might not have to make the choice. Earlier this month, 12 animal advocacy and conservation organizations petitioned the Department of the Interior to get lead ammunition banned from federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which would mean keeping it out of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.
They argue that it’s time to extend the ban on hunting waterfowl with lead ammunition, which was put in place in 1991, to big game and other species over concerns about how its harming wildlife. They cite not only the threat it poses to bald eagles, but to at least 130 other species who are also susceptible to being poisoned who range from condors to grizzly bears.
According to joint statement, “an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals die from lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or fragments directly or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey.”
While placing restrictions on lead ammo might seem like a simple, common-sense solution to protect wildlife from being needlessly poisoned, and some progress has been made, getting bans passed is easier said than done.
In a statement released in response to the study the National Shooting Sports Foundation argues, in spite of extensive evidence, that “no conclusive evidence exists that shows hunters and target shooters using traditional ammunition have caused a decline in the population of raptors” and that lead ammunition is “an irreplaceable source of wildlife conservation funding,” which obviously makes using it fine.
Supporting conservation efforts, while simultaneously poisoning wildlife, kind of defeats the purpose of the funding and is definitely an insult to all the work that was done to bring bald eagles back from the brink and the work still being done to protect wildlife.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement:
“The use of lead ammunition is unacceptable in this day and age, when there are readily available alternatives on the market and we know the incredible harm that lead poses to people and to wildlife. The Department of the Interior must keep federal lands safe. Given the stewardship responsibilities of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is long overdue for those agencies to ban the use of lead ammunition on our national wildlife refuge lands and some national park preserves, where it can easily poison non-target species and imperiled wildlife.”
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