Ban on Lead Ammunition Overturned
On his first day as America’s new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, prioritized overturning a ban on the use of lead ammunition in wildlife refuges. Obama signed the ban on his last full day in office, but the good-intentioned restriction was ill-fated before the ink even dried on the government parchment, due to the incoming Trump Administration.
The ban was intended to prevent wildlife from being poisoned by lead remnants left behind in carcasses, in the soil or in water. But, hunting groups decried the ban as an “assault on gun owners’ and sportsmans’ rights.”
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, thanked Zinke in a statement after claiming that the ban “was a reckless, unilateral overreach that would have devastated the sportsmen’s community.”
However, groups such as the Sierra Club and the pro-hunting group, Hunting With No Lead, countered that considering the risks involved with lead poisoning in animals and people, there really is no good reason not to take lead out of ammunition and fishing tackle. Ethan Manuel with the Sierra Club released a statement arguing that “non-lead options are available, effective, cost-competitive, and most importantly safer…. Overturning the lead ammunition ban may win political points with a few special interests, but it could cost the lives of millions of birds and the health of families that rely on game to feed their families.”
So, is this leftie hyperbole or do lead bullets really cause significant harm to wildlife and humans? Over 6,000 peer-reviewed articles have catalogued the devastating impact of lead on living organisms and unfortunately, the Bald Eagle, America’s most iconic bird, can answer the question about bullets most graphically. Our nation’s symbol of power, of majesty and grace is quickly reduced to a pitiful floppy-necked gasping and convulsing grounded mound of feathers when subjected to lead poisoning. It only takes one ingested bullet shard.
The Blue Mountain Wildlife Refuge in Washington recently shared the above picture and this story from February 27:
On Monday…we received a call about a Bald Eagle on the ground near Mesa, Washington. With the help of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and volunteer Valerie, the eagle was in Pendleton by mid-day. He was showing signs of ingested lead toxicity, lead poisoning caused by eating an animal that has been shot with lead ammunition.
The initial reading on our LeadCare II machine was “high,” the result when the blood lead level is above the upper limit the machine can detect, 66 micrograms/deciliter. The machine’s manufacturer has provided a protocol for diluting high samples in order to determine the lead level. We diluted the sample, repeated the test, and the result was again “high.” By diluting the sample a second time, the machine was able to give us a number. The eagle’s blood lead level was 622 micrograms per deciliter. That is 30 times the level of lead considered to be toxic in raptors, 20 mcg/dl, and the highest lead level we have ever documented.
Although we chelated the eagle aggressively, reducing the blood lead level to 105 mcg/dl in five days, he could not overcome the toxic effects of lead, and died Friday evening. 17-084 was the third Bald Eagle admitted in 2017 and the third eagle this year to have a toxic amount of lead in his blood [at this one wildlife refuge].
Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers across America share similarly grim stories about not only Bald Eagles, but also owls, foxes, coyotes, cougars and condors.
The reality is there is no safe level of lead exposure for humans or wildlife. Even tiny bits of lead such as flakes of old paint or bullet shards, can effect an animal’s nervous system, trigger anemia, spike blood pressure and lead to death. Children and small animals are especially vulnerable to lead’s toxic effects. Since the 1970s, efforts to remove lead from everything from plumbing pipes, paint and gasoline have been a national environmental priority, however ammunition is one category that remained immune to regulatory pressure until Obama signed the ban in January.
Since, there are now so few sources of lead in the United States, one of the obvious solutions to lead toxicity in wildlife is to reduce the use of lead ammunition or ban it altogether. The Obama administration’s support of the lead ammunition ban in wildlife refuges was a step in the right direction—the overturning of this ban by the Trump Administration is obviously not.