There are few sights more wrenching to a wildlife rehabilitator than a convulsing, lead-poisoned bird.
Waterbirds eat lead shot while scouring the bottoms of ponds and lakes for food, songbirds ingest lead fragments along with grit and small stones to aid their digestion, and when raptors scavenge gutpiles and carcasses, they can end up with entire bullets, plus fragments, in their system.
Lead has been banned from paint and gasoline because ingesting it can cause depression, lethargy, paralysis, seizures, blindness, and death. Using lead shot for waterfowl was banned in 1991, but it persists in the environment. Lead bullets and lead shot are still available to the public, and widely used.
In what some might see as an unlikely alliance, wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, and – yes – hunters have banded together to convince those who hunt to use copper bullets instead of lead. The NRA has tried to portray this movement as “taking away hunters’ rights,” which does nothing but insult the hunters already on board. The hunters currently pushing copper bullets have seen the x-rays proving that lead bullets splinter when they enter an animal, and they know that the meat hunters feed their families is filled with lead fragments (x-ray, left, of white-tailed deer.)
On November 13, “The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act” will come in front of the Senate. This bill would re-write the Toxic Substances Control Act, in order to prevent the EPA from even considering evaluating the risks of toxic lead ammunition. This is not protecting hunters’ rights; this is taking away a law that protects the health of both hunters and wildlife.
The Center for Biological Diversity wants to stop the NRA’s lead-poisoning legislation. Join, share, and post this action alert to help “get the lead out” of the Sportsmen’s Act!
And please share the Vimeo video The Non-Lead Hunter with anyone you know who hunts. It was made by Anthony Prieto, a life-long hunter whose mission is to convince fellow hunters to switch to copper bullets. There are two graphic scenes of hunting wild pigs, in order to prove that copper is just as effective as lead. If viewing will upset you, simply pass it along. I am not a hunter, but I applaud the ones who work to make the environment safer for all wildlife.
You’re lucky you have a ban in place in the US. It’s still legal in the UK. It’s interesting to hear hunters have got together on this issue. Please go and read (if you haven’t already) a blog written by ex-RSPB and conservationist Mark Avey, http:markavery.info/ hit the blog button at the top of the page then use the search panel for “lead” and you’ll see the resistance over here to a lead ban.
Suzie, thank you for posting this and for linking out to that video. I remain optimistic but somewhat cynical about the lead provision being removed. I regularly have discussions, sometimes heated, with hunters on wildlife issues. I’ve seen few who’ve publicly come out to critique the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act because, as you know, it also promises to open up increased public land access for hunters, and that’s obviously in their self-interst.
The resistance I’ve encountered on this issue borders on patriotic fervor at times. I’ve met a few hunters who absolutely agree with a lead ban, and my “sample” is admittedly small and anecdotal. But many I’ve engaged with are convinced it’s just a slippery slope from a lead ban to an outright ban on hunting, and I’ve seen this particular video disparaged at hunting sites as propaganda from a front group. Some argue that other environmental lead is more significant, so leave the lead ammo and “freedom” alone.
I’ve pretty much heard and seen it all when it comes to hunting and justifications for various practices, but when I encounter this self-serving obstinance — even in the face of some of these heartbreaking images and videos of poisoned raptors — I tell those who object that in doing so, they seriously undermine their self-proclaimed role as “conservationists.”
Hunters are extremely organized when it comes to political influence and letter-writing campaigns, and they are disproportionately represented sometimes because of it. I would urge anyone who feels strongly about this issue to contact their Senators with their concerns.
Hi Douglas, I read the link you provided – “chocolate has more lead than game meat”? Unbelievable what these groups will write. Yes, we have that ban for lead shot over bodies of water, for ducks/geese, but it’s not enough. Thanks for the link.
Ingrid, I agree with you, it’s frustrating. I’ve talked to Anthony Prieto, who made the video, and the idea that he’s some kind of front man for an anti-hunting group is ludicrous. But there’s a veterinarian/rehabber in Nova Scotia, Dr. Helene van Doninck, who is doing presentations to hunters groups, and she says many times she walks in and she knows most of the crowd is against her, but by the time she leaves they’ve changed their minds. If hunters think for themselves, instead of just following the NRA’s orders, there’s hope.
Way to go, Suzie! Another factual, excellently written article that hopefully will get passed on to hunters.
While traveling out west last summer (ID, MT, UT), we passed several wildfire sites. Returning home (east coast), I followed news from those areas and noticed that there were many proponents of using lead, because apparently when “practice-shooting”, it is less of a threat for igniting a wildfire. There are many competing arguments, but it is hard to understand those that do not come down on the side of protecting wildlife from a wrenching death – regardless of one’s feelings about hunting. Thank you for posting this story, and helping to raise awareness.
Barbara, the wildfire counter argument is interesting in that there’s a also an argument to be made about livestock grazing in those areas, and how the prevalence of cheatgrass (related to grazing) has replaced sage habitats that are more naturally fire resistant. Ecologist George Wuerthner talks about this issue with respect to grouse habitat. He does various presentations on the overall deleterious effects of livestock production on habitat, wildlife, and climate change. It’s a much bigger topic than this, but your comments about wildlife sites made me think of Weurthner’s discussion about grazing and wildlfires, and how ultimate causes are often quite different than proximate causes.
Suzie thank you so much for writing this. I hope copper shot has a lot more luck than Bismuth shot did with hunters.
Thank you, Peggy & Stew. Stew, I don’t know the history of Bismuth shot, was it pushed as a lead alternative? It seems only now are xrays and studies being circulated.
Barbara, I asked about bullets/fires, and here’s a response from John Halverston, a hunter who rehabs at the Black Hills Raptor Center in South Dakota:
“As someone that uses flint and steel to start my campfires and light my pipe when camping…and as someone that has used copper tools to knap flint/chert/etc…I can categorically say that it is impossible to strike a spark with ANY material that is used for making bullets! The materials are far too soft, malleable, and/or frangible to create that spark.
“You’ve maybe seen a demonstration of a flint and steel throwing sparks. The steel needs to be very hard, iron is even too soft to throw a real spark. The flint being harder material and having sharp edges, literally shaves thin slivers off the steel. Because these small slivers of steel are being shaved off at high speed, the friction causes the tiny slivers of steel to heat beyond the melting point. They actually get so hot that the steel reacts chemically with free oxygen in the atmosphere and burns.
“Nor does the gunpowder in the cartridges start fires, the powder is fully consumed long before the bullet portion even starts its path down the barrel, much less when it exits the barrel.”
Another hunter/raptor rehabber said the only type of ammo that can cause fires is government-issue tracer rounds. He said you might get a spark if you’re shooting steel targets with armor-piercing bullets. I wish the news show you watched had interviewed someone who knew what they were talking about!