Time to Protect Our Wildest Places From One Of Our Deadliest Poisons

National Wildlife Refuge sign (New Jersey)

Today the Humane Society of the United States and NRDC, along with 10 other organizations, filed a legal petition to ban the use of lead ammunition in our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. NRDC has worked to prohibit the use of lead ammunition for years for one simple reason: lead is toxic. And when hunters use lead ammunition, they expose any animal that subsequently feeds on any remains left in the field to a deadly poison.  One hundred and thirty different species in the United States are exposed to lead every year, including millions of birds, like eagles and condors. Studies have even show elevated lead levels in Yellowstone grizzly bears' blood during hunting season.

Lead is also completely unnecessary. Alternatives ammunition (mostly copper and copper alloy bullets) are now widely available for virtually all firearms -- and are equal to or superior in performance compared to bullets made from lead.

And if you’re not completely convinced, let’s not forget about the impact on human health.  Lead bullets can fragment badly when they strike an animal, often leaving tiny toxic pieces of lead scattered throughout meat.  Consistently serving lead-shot game to, especially to children, simply isn’t safe.  That’s why California completely banned the use of lead ammunition last year.

So why are we allowing hunters to use lead ammunition on 160 million acres of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges?  Of all the places in the United States, our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges should try the hardest to protect its wildlife.  The time has come: let’s get the lead out of America’s most treasured wild places.


UPDATE: Coincidentally, managers of a Fish and Wildlife Refuge just released the results of a large survey of bald eagle mortalities in the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge.  Here is what they found:

Ed Britton, the manager of the Savanna District of the refuge says they collected 168 dead eagles found in the refuge that stretches across Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Britton says they were surprised by the results after having the livers of the birds tested. “We were just doing a research study to find out if there was a relationship and 48-percent of the livers came back showing detectable lead concentrations. And 21-percent came back with lethal levels — meaning lead poisoning,” Britton says.

Researchers determined that eagles feed on piles of internal organs, known as gut piles, left behind by hunters preparing the deer in the field. They studied 25 such piles behind in a Savana area after a managed hunt and found lead fragments in all of the piles. “It ranged from one to 107 fragments per pile,” Britton says. “So, that’s a lot of lead particles in a gut pile.”

And meanwhile, hunters in California are increasingly warming to non-lead ammunition, recognizing its superior performance and increased safety.  So come on, Department of Interior, what are you waiting for?

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Andrew Wetzler

Deputy Chief Program Officer

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