Lead has been widely known as a toxic metal for at least 2,000 years. It’s been outlawed and removed from paint, gasoline, and a host of other items to protect human health and our environment. It’s long been known to be toxic to wildlife, too, and it was a quarter-century ago that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—after a bitter battle with the NRA—banned lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting throughout the country. Contrary to the alarmist claims of some in the hunting lobby, waterfowl hunting continues uninterrupted, and millions of hunters have shifted to non-toxic shot, like steel, without a hitch. According to a 2006 survey by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, 78 percent of hunters found non-lead ammo to have the same or better performance as lead.
A couple of years ago, lawmakers in California banned the use of lead ammunition in the habitat of California condors, on the grounds that they are highly susceptible to lead in the environment as carrion feeders. They feed on the guts of dead deer left in the field and other animals shot but not retrieved by hunters, ingesting lead in the process. This toxic ammunition is the number-one cause of death for the critically endangered condors.
The current battleground over lead ammunition is Iowa, which in 2011 took the unfortunate step of overturning its long-standing ban on the shooting of mourning doves. The Iowa Natural Resources Commission passed a regulation forbidding lead shot in hunting doves, but Gov. Terry Branstad, shilling for the gun lobby, worked to delay implementation of the toxic shot prohibition. Now, the leading dove shooting cheerleader in the legislature, Sen. Dick Dearden, has demanded that lawmakers overturn the Iowa NRC’s decision before it takes effect this year. These are the same politicians who say that wildlife management decisions should be based on sound science, yet they are trying to overturn a science-based decision of the state's wildlife professionals for political gain. Yesterday, the Des Moines Register editorial board made the plea to Iowa legislators to ignore Dearden’s ranting.
Just last month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff rushed a critically ill bald eagle to the Den Herder Veterinary Hospital. The bird died before blood results confirmed that he was suffering from acute lead poisoning. Ingesting just one pellet can induce blindness, paralysis of the intestinal tract and lungs, and organ failure in many species. Wildlife rehabilitators at the Gabbert Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota recently endured the loss of another poisoned bald eagle, as the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis reported. But it’s a lot more than eagles at risk of suffering and dying from lead poisoning. Millions of wild animals are poisoned every year by the effects of lead discharged from hunting weapons. These bullets just keep on killing.
We know that lead is deadly to wildlife. And we know that hunters can use non-toxic shot without diminishing their hunting experience or success rates. To continue to demand that lead be permitted is selfish, inhumane, and counter to the principles of sound science and conservation. Hunters lay claim to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and other hunters who were conservationists. But the lead users are conservation counterfeiters, sacrificing millions of wild creatures because of their selfish desire not to change.