The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a campaign called Get the Lead Out, in an effort to discourage the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from allowing lead to be used in hunting ammunition. The organization has rallied more than 140 environmental groups for the cause, and has started a petition online.
Wildlife, especially birds such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, doves, herons, and condors, faces a threat from lead ammunition – not because the animals are killed with lead bullets, but because they ingest lead remnants that hunters leave behind. While land-based birds eat lead fragments left behind in the woods, water-based birds such as geese and swans can mistake lead-based fishing sinkers for food. As much as 3,000 tons of lead is released into the environment through hunting each year, while an additional 80,000 tons are used at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons are left in waterways.
The Center has called the 20 million annual deaths due to lead positioning “entirely preventable,” and notes that lead poisoning is painful for animals. Mammals such as wolves, panthers and bears are also affected by lead poisoning.
The endangered California condor population has been especially affected by lead poisoning. In the 1980s, the last nine remaining condors were taken into captivity and bred to save the species; by the mid-1990s, the birds could be released back into the wild. Today, there are more than 200 wild condors in California and Arizona. Despite recovering from near-extinction, the birds are not safe from threats to their population – since 1992, at least 30 reintroduced condors have died from lead poisoning, a major factor that prevents the species from achieving a full recovery on its own. Condors and other birds that ingest lead must receive emergency treatment in order to survive.
Ammunition that does not contain lead is widely available; in areas with regulations on lead ammunition, hunters already use substitute bullets containing copper, steel, and other metals. At the urging of the Center for Biological Diversity, California has passed legislation prohibiting lead ammunition from being used in condor habitats in the central and southern parts of the state.
In Arizona, where 95 percent of condors had been exposed to lead according to a study conducted in 2006, the Center is fighting for similar legislation to protect the endangered birds.
“Spent lead pellets and lead fragments in shot game are still widespread wildlife-killers, felling bald and golden eagles, trumpeter swans, endangered California condors and more than 75 other bird species. Lead bullets can also fragment into minute particles and spread throughout shot game, causing a health risk to humans who eat it,” the Center for Biological Diversity states in its petition to the EPA.
“Although environmental lead poisoning has been reduced by removing lead from paint and gasoline, each year thousands of tons of lead are shot into the wild, a half-million lead fishing sinkers are lost or abandoned in aquatic ecosystems and numerous carcasses contaminated with lead fragments are left for scavengers. When this lead enters the food chain the effect on wildlife is staggering.”
Humans are affected by lead ammunition poisoning as well: lead particles from bullets can spread up to a foot and a half from the bullet point throughout a hunted animal’s body, poisoning the meat that people eat. When state health agencies found that venison donated to food banks had been contaminated by lead, they recalled the meat, but as many as 10 million hunters and low-income consumers of donated meat are at risk of lead poisoning.
Add your name to the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to urge the EPA to enforce restrictions on lead ammunition in hunting. The petition already has support from veterinarians, hunters, scientists, Native Americans, and government employees in 35 states – join this strong coalition of 140 agencies by signing the petition.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/258461884