It was just a few months ago that America watched Flint unpack boxes of bottled water in the midst of battle against lead contamination in its municipal water supply. Arrests followed, since reckless managers put lives at risk, particularly children who drank contaminated water.
We’ve known for thousands of years that lead is a deadly toxin, yet it’s only been in recent decades that we’ve taken it out of gasoline, paint, and other substances. The lingering effects of lead pipes still pose hazards for communities.
And we haven’t even take the obvious step of removing it from ammunition, which sport hunters disperse and collectively plant in fields and forests every hunting season.
Every day, at any one of our nation’s hundreds of wildlife rehabilitation centers, caretakers do everything within their power to counteract the effects of lead poisoning in eagles, condors, doves, ducks, and all manner of other creatures. The victims have the classic symptoms of lead poisoning: tremors, kidney and liver failure, and extreme weakness. Blood tests typically show lead levels literally off the charts. The culprit?
It’s estimated that between 10 and 20 million birds and other animals—including more than 130 species—die every year from lead poisoning. It’s time for our federal government to ban the use of lead ammunition on tens of millions of federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Scientists have called lead ammo the “greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States.” Since it breaks into fragments upon impact, lead inevitably makes its way into the food chain as animals feed off of carcasses left in the field by hunters. Hunting families are at risk too, since the meat from animals shot and cooked for the table can contain tiny lead shards.
In 2013, California became the first state in the nation to phase out the use of lead ammunition for the taking of all wildlife, setting a deadline of 2019. It’s up to other states and the federal government to follow suit.
The HSUS, along with other wildlife conservation groups and sportsmen, has petitioned the Department of the Interior to require the use of nontoxic ammunition when a firearm is discharged on the more than 160 million acres of federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Just like we saw in 1991 when the USFWS began requiring the use of non-lead shot for hunting waterfowl, this would result in millions of unintended animal victims being saved.
In the meantime, hunters can choose lead alternatives. Readily available and comparably priced copper and steal ammunition is outperforming archaic lead loads and doesn’t continue to kill days, weeks, and months after leaving the gun.
Sadly, with their heels firmly planted in the ground, groups like the National Rifle Association contrive a conspiracy even when phasing out lead shot will be beneficial for hunters, wildlife, and retailers. Poke around on the websites of the biggest ammo manufacturers and you’ll find even the firearms industry singing the praises of lead alternatives. “Looking for premium performance without the premium price?” asks one brand-name maker of steel shot. Well, it will sell you a shell that “delivers denser patterns for greater lethality and is zinc-plated to prevent corrosion.”
Sport hunters often cite the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt in the context of their pastime. He was a conservationist and hunter through and through. But he understood that “conserve” is an action verb. It requires active engagement. That means phasing out the use of lead ammunition and ending its devastating effects.
If Flint taught us anything, it’s that we cannot wait until a public health crisis erupts to address an obvious problem. Lead is a poison. It kills people and non-human animals alike. A ban on toxic ammunition would hit the bullseye in ending decades of unnecessary and entirely avoidable poisoning and destruction of wildlife in our nation.