The outgoing administration passed a last-minute directive, one that has been welcomed by conversation and wildlife experts the world over. America’s bald eagle problem seemed to be increasing with every passing day and the Obama administration seemed to have tackled the issue head on before passing the reigns of the government to Trump. The directive banned the use of lead fishing sinkers and ammunition on federal land in order to protect the wildlife from the effects of lead poisoning. Environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland have been advocating the ban of lead and the use of lead free ammunition for years.
Just recently a Pennsylvania Game Commission officer brought a bald eagle to the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in northeastern Pennsylvania. While the center commonly sees birds being brought in after a run-in with vehicles, this particular case seemed to stand out. "Sometimes you just get a gut feeling with these birds, and our gut said this was lead poisoning," said Susan Gallagher, Chief Naturalist at the center, pointing to lime-green diarrhea and other classic symptoms.
Eagles and other scavenger birds commonly scavenge remains left behind by hunters, and this often includes lead ammunition. Fragments from expended ammunition enter their bodies, thereby exposing them to the dangers of lead. According to Gallagher, these birds always look like they don’t feel well. They seem disoriented and come in with their hackles up and heads down.
The ban will make hunting more expensive due to the need to resort to green ammo, believes Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Bald eagle populations are at record levels,” says Keane. "There's no reason to ban traditional ammo unless there's evidence of a population impact." While the case might hold true for eagles, the population levels of most other forms of wildlife, including the endangered condors, is also affected by lead.
"Waterfowl hunters have been successful using lead-free ammunition nationwide for decades, ever since lead shot was phased out in 1991," counters environmental health legal director, Jonathan Evans. He believes the Obama directive to be a great start, but hopes that common sense prevails and the 1991 ban extends to all fishing gear and ammunition on all public lands.
States have also been busy introducing lead-reduction programs. California has the most bans on lead ammunition, while Arizona has experimented with the voluntary approach, offering green ammo such as copper bullets to its hunters. Though President Trump has promised to undo many of Obama’s regulations, he hasn’t addressed this particular issue yet. If the directive survives, state-level programs shall continue to be implemented over the years.
Susan Gallagher has an even more unique solution to the problem. She believes that hunters don’t need a ban to change to lead-free ammunition. They only need to spend some time with a bald eagle that has been poisoned by lead. "Had you seen this bird suffer and go through what it went through and then walked into a sporting goods store, absolutely, you'd make that choice," said Gallagher.
At a time when lead poisoning cases are at a record high and the Flint fiasco still fresh in our memories, it’s no longer a case of what’s right. It’s imperative to move away from lead and switch to green ammo, to save the environment for our kids, and ensure that they enjoy the same joys from hunting as we did in our lives. It’s about taking action before it is too late.