Minnesota urged to ban lead in ammunition and fishing tackle
With growing evidence of damage to loons, eagles and other wildlife, environmental groups are calling on the state to try again to ban or limit the use of lead in gear balls, bird bullets and rifle bullets.
Their petition, filed last month with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, would require hunters to use steel, copper or other non-toxic ammunition during all hunting seasons statewide. He also asks the MRN to ban lead jigs and fishing tackle from lakes where loons nest.
Lead jigs and sinkers can poison loons when birds scoop them up from the bottom of lakes while they search for pebbles to help them digest their food. Eagles can be poisoned when they eat “gut piles” left by hunters who shoot deer with lead shot and then dress them in the wild.
“The science is indisputable,” said Tom Casey, president of the Friends of Minnesota Science and Nature Areas, who filed the petition with League Isaak Walton and Friends of the Mississippi River, among other groups. “We have banned the use of lead in paints, toys and just about all other consumer products. “
Lead ammunition has been banned in federal wetlands since the early 1990s. Duck and goose hunters are prohibited from using poison shot in the United States. But Minnesota has never regulated the use of lead to capture other birds, small game, or deer. It also did not regulate lead in fishing tackle.
In a long-lasting education campaign, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) encouraged hunters and fishermen to switch to non-toxic equipment. But there is little evidence that the campaign has made a big difference.
In 2015, the state published a study of more than 130 loons found dead over the course of several years, said Carrol Henderson, the long-time retired chief of the DNR’s non-game wildlife program. More than 11% of loons had died of lead poisoning.
Around the same time, scientists published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Wildlife Management, which found that the lead material killed more than 40% of all loons found dead in New Hampshire.
Loons are particularly vulnerable because they eat small pebbles, almost exactly the same size as a common jig, to crush minnows and small fish in their gizzards, Henderson said.
“People don’t make that connection – that when they lose a lead jig it doesn’t rust or break down,” Henderson said. “He’s been there for decades. “
The DNR has proposed more limited lead bans in the past, but either withdrawn them after public backlash or saw them shot down by state lawmakers. In 2015 and 2016, the MNR proposed to ban lead hunting on state-owned hunting lands in the southern half of Minnesota. After months of public participation and opposition from hunter groups and the National Rifle Association, the DNR abandoned the plans. The following year, the Legislature passed a bill that temporarily prohibited the DNR from changing its lead shot rules. This ban expired on July 1.
MNR officials said they had not considered changing the rules since the moratorium was lifted this summer. Spokesman Chris Niskanen said the agency is reviewing the environmentalists’ petition and will make a decision by the deadline in early November.
Under current law, hunters and fishermen have a choice, said Pat Rivers, DNR deputy director of fisheries and wildlife. “And we encourage them to use non-toxic products. “
A growing number of states, including New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Maine, have either banned lead in fishing gear or banned its use in small jigs and weights. This year, California became the first state to completely ban the use of lead ammunition.
Despite this, many hunters and fishermen resisted the change. Lead ammunition and fishing tackle have always been cheaper than non-toxic products and have long been much more readily available on store shelves. Steel shot, in particular, gained a reputation for poor quality in the 1990s, as manufacturers rushed to comply with federal regulations. This is changing now as more companies are producing more alternatives to lead to keep up with new regulations and growing demand.
Minnesota-based Pheasants Forever, one of the nation’s largest hunting and habitat conservation groups, prefers hunters to have the choice of using lead ammunition, spokesman Jared Wiklund said .
“We have members on both sides of the aisle on this,” he said. He added that a number of ammunition manufacturers, including Minnesota’s Federal Ammunition, have made great strides in new materials over the past decade, producing affordable non-toxic steel or shot and more. than performing in the field.
National Rifle Association officials did not respond to phone calls asking for comment. The group’s lobbying arm released a statement online applauding past efforts to derail Minnesota’s proposed limits on lead shot. “The arguments for these bans are based on flawed science,” the group wrote, adding that there was no evidence that lead ammunition had a “population-level impact” on any species. of Minnesota.
While federal regulations have targeted lead in waterfowl hunting, much of the impact in the Upper Midwest has occurred during deer hunting seasons.
Studies have shown that lead rifle bullets shatter on impact, sending shards of lead up to 18 inches in any direction throughout the deer’s body.
In the mid-2000s, North Dakota began testing game donated by hunters to pantries and found lead in about 6% of meat samples.
In addition, fragments of lead often reach the entrails of a deer, which remains after a hunter dresses the animal and can be eaten by eagles, hawks and other scavengers, said Julia Ponder, a veterinarian. and executive director of the University’s Raptor Center. of Minnesota.
More than a quarter of all injured eagles rescued and brought to the Raptor Center are ill or die from lead poisoning, Ponder said.
The center has treated hundreds of injured eagles over the decades and tests the lead of every eagle it treats. Since 1991, more than 70% of all eagles had measurable amounts of lead in their bodies, Ponder said.
“No amount of lead is normal in a biological system,” she added.
The Raptor Center saw little difference in the number of poison eagles it dealt with before and after the federal ban on lead munitions in wetlands. But every year there is an increase during the deer hunting season, Ponder said.
“It’s these soft lead bullets that are fragmenting,” she said. “Once they get into the intestinal heap, it becomes totally contaminated. It’s just a toxic meal for the wildlife that feed on it.