Hunters Split Over Petition to Ban Lead Shot

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2010 (ENS) – A coalition of conservation, hunting and veterinary groups today filed a formal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting a ban on the use of toxic lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.

American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the hunters’ group Project Gutpile are asking for the ban under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates dangerous chemicals.

“As a hunter in California, compliance with the recent state nonlead ammunition regulation has been simple,” said Anthony Prieto, a hunter and co-founder of Project Gutpile, a hunter’s group that provides educational resources for lead-free hunters and anglers. “I still get to hunt, there is no toxic impact on wildlife or my health, and copper bullets shoot better.”

Spent shotgun shells in Washington state. (Photo by Curtis Gregory Perry)

At least 10 million birds of 75 species and many other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the United States, including bald eagles, trumpeter swans, endangered California condors, the petitioning groups claim.

Birds and animals scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit.

The groups say some animals die a painful death from lead poisoning while others suffer for years from lead’s toxic effects.

“It’s long past time do something about this deadly and preventable epidemic of lead poisoning in the wild,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Over the past several decades we’ve wisely taken steps to get lead out of our gasoline, paint, water pipes and other sources that are dangerous to people. Now it’s time to get the lead out of hunting and fishing sports to save wildlife from needless poisoning.”

The petition references almost 500 scientific studies, most of which have been peer-reviewed, that illustrate the widespread dangers from lead ammunition and fishing tackle.

“The science on this issue is massive in breadth and unimpeachable in its integrity,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. “Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show continued lead poisoning of large numbers of birds and other animals, and this petition is a prudent step to safeguard wildlife and reduce unacceptable human health risks.”

Lead is a toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at low levels. Exposure can cause acute poisoning, death or long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth and damage to neurological development.

In the United States, 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting every year, another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and sinkers.

But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, today announced its opposition to the petition.

“There is simply no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having an adverse impact on wildlife populations that would require restricting or banning the use of traditional ammunition beyond current limitations, such as the scientifically based restriction on waterfowl hunting,” said NSSF President Steve Sanetti.

The petitioners say that despite being banned in 1992 for hunting waterfowl, spent lead shotgun pellets continue to be ingested by swans, cranes, ducks, geese, loons and other waterfowl. These birds also consume lead-based fishing tackle lost in lakes and rivers.

NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence Keane counters that, “Needlessly restricting or banning traditional ammunition absent sound science will hurt wildlife conservation efforts as fewer hunters take to the field.”

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