The trophy hunting lobby in the United States conveniently and selectively invokes “science” in defense of reckless practices. In Maine, in arguing against Question 1 (to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping), the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine told voters to “trust the biologists” because the state’s chief bear biologist – himself a bear trapper and baiter – and the politicians who run the agency were aligned with them.
But will they “trust the biologists” when more independent-minded scientists ask them to end retrograde practices?
What immediately comes to mind is lead ammunition, where there is a mountain of science that says that this toxic substance indiscriminately kills millions of wild animals each year. There are affordable and effective forms of ammunition that are widely used in its place, and there can be no rational argument that there is no practical alternative.
Last week, the international community, and specifically its wildlife scientists and policy-makers, made a significant statement in declaring that the hunting lobby across the globe must halt its use of lead ammunition. The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a resolution urging the phase-out of lead ammunition in all environments over the next three years, and agreed to guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning of migratory birds.
The Convention on Migratory Species is an environmental treaty, administered by the United Nations Environment Program, which meets every three years to set the global conservation agenda. Although not legally binding, its resolutions have great weight and constitute a set of important, science-based declarations on wildlife management issues.
Because of its acute toxicity, lead has already been removed from various paints, gasoline, pipes, children’s toys and a host of other household items to protect human health. Every year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals die of lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or fragments directly, or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey. But, despite the more than 500 scientific studies affirming its serious impacts on wildlife, and alternatives readily available in the marketplace, lead-based ammunition remains one of the greatest sources of lead discharged into the environment.
As many as 29 countries have implemented some variation of regulation for the use of lead ammunition, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began requiring non-toxic ammunition in hunting migratory waterfowl in 1991, after biologists and conservationists estimated roughly two million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets. And California passed legislation last year to phase out lead ammunition to protect the endangered California condor. The NRA and the groups that fought us in Maine, saying “trust the biologists,” are many of the same groups that fought the 1991 federal rule and vigorously fought California’s legislation against lead ammunition.
At the recent UN Summit, the United States was a dissenter on the anti-lead resolution, indicating that lead ammunition should be regulated at the state level. While it’s true that state agencies have a critical role to play, the federal government is the biggest wildlife manager in the United States. This is why, in June, The HSUS and its coalition partners petitioned the Department of Interior to phase out the use of lead ammunition for hunting on federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, between them, control more than 150 million acres of federal lands.
I applaud the international community for addressing this important issue and aiming to reduce the use of lead ammunition. Momentum is building around the globe. But the U.S. government must also do its part and so must the states in passing policy reforms that will end the use of this toxic substance in hunting – and that means standing up to folks in the gun and hunting lobby who invoke scientists who agree with them and who are often captured by the industry.
The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. They treat conservation as a talking point or a historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights. No true wildlife advocate should support the use of lead ammunition in hunting, given that the killing continues long after the bullet leaves the gun barrel.