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Groups call for phasing out lead on national wildlife refuges

lead ammunition
Bald Eagle with sternal recumbancy (meaning it cannot stand on its own) from lead poisoning. Photo courtesy The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club filed a formal legal petition on June 8 calling on the U.S. Department of the Interior to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges. Numerous scientific studies have linked lead ammunition to poisonings of wildlife and people.

“The evidence is compelling that Secretary Haaland must take the commonsense step of phasing out toxic lead ammo and fishing tackle on our national wildlife refuges,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center. “Switching to lead substitutes can stop the often slow, painful poisoning deaths of wildlife on refuges that are specifically established to protect them.”

Despite being banned in 1992 for hunting waterfowl, spent lead ammunition used for other hunting continues to poison over 130 different species of wildlife, including eagles, swans, endangered Whooping Cranes, and endangered California Condors. Many birds also consume lead-based fishing tackle lost in lakes and rivers.

“There are safer, cost-effective alternatives available today to protect Texas families from lead-poisoned game,” said Rebecca Bernhardt, executive director of Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Phasing out lead ammo and tackle promotes a healthy, toxic-free wildlife refuge system for everyone.”

Lead ammunition poses health risks to people when bullets fragment in shot game and spread throughout the meat that people eat. Studies using radiographs show that numerous dust-sized particles of lead can infect meat beyond the bullet wound, causing health risks for people consuming game.

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Bald Eagle at Conowingo Dam in Maryland. Photo by Harry Collins

Dangers to eagles

Evidence of the dangers of lead continues to grow. A 2022 scientific study found that half of Bald and Golden Eagles are suffering from chronic, toxic levels of lead due to lead ammunition. Birds and animals are poisoned when they scavenge on carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or ingest spent lead-shot pellets, which can blanket popular hunting grounds at high densities.

A wealth of research has also shown that non-lead ammunition is extremely effective and reduces the threat of lead contamination for hunters and fishers. Non-lead ammunition can easily be purchased in a range of calibers from over 60 different manufacturers. And non-lead fishing tackle, such as weights and lures, is also widely available.

The majority of Americans support switching to non-lead ammunition. Numerous sporting groups and state wildlife agencies have also partnered to urge the use of non-lead ammunition, and 100 groups have called on federal officials to regulate toxic lead ammunition.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a federal bill last month to phase out lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges.

Phasing out lead ammunition and sinkers would advance President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, which calls for science-based conservation approaches that support healthy communities.

Hunting and fishing with lead is allowed on most wildlife refuges, including those like Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas that are home to sensitive wildlife such as the Bald Eagle and Whooping Crane.

For more information, read about the Center’s Get the Lead Out campaign.

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for providing this news.

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