In 1991, to his great credit, President George H.W. Bush banned the use of lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting by federal rule, despite predictions from the National Rifle Association and other organizations that the demise of duck and goose hunting was imminent. Now, 23 years after the ban went into effect, we can see that the wild-eyed predictions were not prophetic, but imaginary. Waterfowl hunting remains a popular activity throughout much of the nation, and countless hunters have readily made the switch to steel, copper, bismuth and other forms of less toxic ammunition.
A quarter century later, there have been additional, practical developments in the firearms and ammunitions industry, and lead-free ammunition is not only available and affordable, but it's really the only responsible ammunition to use if you're a hunter.
Today a group of rank-and-file sportsmen and The HSUS, along with 11 other animal protection and wildlife conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, jointly petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to require the use of nontoxic ammunition when discharging a firearm on the more than 160 million acres of federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Each year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals -- from more than 130 species -- die from lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or fragments directly or by feeding on prey contaminated with fragments of lead ammunition.
Lead ammunition fragments upon impact, making it nearly impossible to remove completely from meat, which makes it a public health threat to consumers, too. In children, lead exposure can cause lower IQ, learning disabilities, stunted growth, kidney damage and attention deficit disorder. Adults are less sensitive to the effects of lead and absorb less into their bodies, but can experience potential health effects, including hearing loss, high blood pressure and infertility.
Last year, California became the very first state to enact legislation that will phase out the use of lead ammunition used for the taking of wildlife. The U.S. Army has also taken steps to eliminate its use by switching to "green bullets."
Teddy Roosevelt is a patron saint in the hunting community, and he achieved that status not only because of his zest for the sport, but also for his foresighted leadership in the conservation of public lands. He probably did more to protect public lands in the United States than any other individual. And that ethic was built into some of the organizations he helped to found and build. But where is the leadership now in the hunting community?
The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. They follow in the footsteps of Roosevelt in time only, but certainly not in spirit or deed. They treat conservation as an historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights.
Because these special interest groups refuse to act responsibly by advocating for less toxic ammunition, the government must impose rules for the good of wildlife and public health. It must act, just as it did a quarter century ago when presented with abundant information about the immense collateral impact of scattering millions of pounds of toxic lead ammunition in the environment. When it's left behind, by one means or another, lead finds its way into the stomachs and tissues of animals, debilitating, blinding, poisoning and often killing them. Its impact on wildlife continues long after the bullet has left the chamber.
It's time for the feds to get the lead out and ban toxic lead ammunition on federal lands.
This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.