Lead Poisoning

Bob Rogers

April 8, 2017 — On March 2nd, his first day in office as the new Interior Secretary in the Trump Administration, Ryan Zinke issued two secretarial orders. The first was to overturn Barack Obama’s lead ban on ammunition and fishing tackle. The second was to improve game management and habitat.

While both orders had support from fishermen and hunters, only the latter issue, improving wildlife habitat was welcomed by environmental protectionists. That contrast once again puts the focus on the political disconnect that has a hunting component.

There is sufficient evidence that some wildlife, especially those on the threatened, endangered and protected lists, are impacted by ingesting lead fragments from carcasses of game animals from birds and small game to larger ungulates (hoofed animals). While that is the preferred position taken by the protection community, their blanket position is to currently compromise with the hunting crowd by promoting the use of non-lead ammunition and fishing weights such as copper and steel, both that impacts the cost of such tackle often beyond the scope of some low income sportsmen.

Having lived nearly 80% of my life in rural environments, I can attest to the often massive amount of wildlife road kill that far outpaces non-recovered game animals in number. Automotive statisticians such as those employed by insurance companies and motorist assisting automobile clubs continue to report the variety of wildlife victims of cars and trucks on America’s roads and highways, especially in high-population states like New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.

Deer, bear, raccoons, and assorted vermin are regular fare in those places. Farther west, mid-America and the Rocky Mountain states provide a literal smorgasbord of smashed and broken carcasses on which to feed, all lives of which were cut short not by lead bullets but by rubber tires.

In small-populated Wyoming, for example, where wildlife far outnumbers people, golden and bald eagles can be seen any winter day gorging themselves on curbside entrails and bloody, rotting flesh. The state is the migratory destination of thousands of raptor predators each year. Some of them become permanent residents due to the abundance of easily available road kill. The same can be said for every one of the western states as well as the flat badlands east of the Rockies.

Fish, in the same way and being less migratory, especially those species that are landlocked, are basically under-studied and feeble effort has been spent to locate conclusive evidence of lead’s harmful properties affecting most fish.

At least half of the hunter population can likely afford non-lead ammunition and, certainly, dedicated waterfowl hunters have accepted non-lead shot as their performance preference. That leaves non-recovered upland game as most-effected by lead shot but, as found in the Review and Assessment of Spent Lead Ammunition and Its Exposure and Effects to Scavenging Birds in the United States,  Hunt ( 2012 pg 129) argues that population impacts to avian scavengers are likely underestimated, in part due to the difficulty in detecting the health manifestations of sublethal lead exposure. In cases suggestive of lead as a contributing factor, elevated concentrations have been associated (N.H. Golden et al. 129) with avian mortality from other causes such as collisions with power lines, cables, or other objects.

In short, lead poisoning is still inconclusive as the major factor of wildlife mortality. To subscribe such conditions as primary to lead bullets and fishing weights with the exception of shot waterfowl seems somewhat of an overkill (excuse the expression) that could have economic consequences for some ammunition makers as well as outdoor sportsmen.
But Secretary Finke’s order to upgrade wildlife habitat is one decision on which we can all agree. And should.

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