Lead ammunition has been public enemy number one for decades due to its negative health effects. Legislators have enacted laws to protect citizens, but they’ve neglected our nation’s emblem: the bald eagle.
Recent cases of bald eagle poisonings highlight the need for a national ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle.
In early February, a bald eagle was rescued after being shot by a pellet gun in California. After the bird was rescued, veterinarians discovered that the animal was suffering from lead poisoning resulting in its heart becoming “severely and fundamentally compromised,” Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue stated in a social media post. The bird was euthanized due to the severity of the injuries.
Just days before, a bald eagle died after being rescued in central Arkansas struggling to fly. Once the bird was brought to a rescue center, it was suspected that the bird was suffering from lead poisoning based on its symptoms, Arkansas Online reports.
These two cases are far from anomalies — and bald eagles aren’t the only animals at risk.
An estimated 10 to 20 million animals die from lead poisoning every year in the United States. It is believed that a large portion of the lead in the environment is coming from ammunition due to its ubiquity and the strict regulations against other sources of lead.
Animals can come into contact with lead ammunition in a variety of ways, from getting shot with lead ammunition, to scavenging on the carcass of another animal shot with lead ammunition and ingesting bullet or fishing tackle fragments left behind in the environment. Since bald eagles enjoy feasting on dead animals, they are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning is often a gruesome way for an animal to die. Animals can die from starvation, paralysis and damage to the nervous system. Other animals will live with symptoms, such as neurological impairment and damage to the immune system, for years before dying.
Not only does lead ammunition threaten animal welfare, but it also threatens conservation efforts to protect our endangered species. Lead bullets almost caused the extinction of the critically endangered California condor. Between 2004-2009, it was estimated that one-third of condors in California were affected by lead ammunition.
Multiple studies have also shown a high rate of lead poisoning in rescued bald eagles with researchers seeing a spike in poisonings during hunting seasons. It is likely that more birds have died from lead poisoning than statistics show as not all individuals can be rescued before they die in the wild and are subsequently consumed by other wild animals.
The wide-scale decimation of the California condor led to the passage of a lead ammunition ban in California.
California condors are still not safe from lead poisoning as the full ban has not gone into effect yet. Additionally, the condor could become victim to lead ammunition when traveling outside of California where laws are more relaxed.
A national ban on lead ammunition would address concerns about differing state laws and protect all wildlife species in the United States from the deleterious effects of lead. Currently, federal legislation prohibits the use of lead ammunition when hunting waterfowl or with a shotgun on wildlife refuges and waterfowl productions areas. This legislation is far from enough to protect our wildlife.
As with most pushes to regulate guns, a national ban on lead ammunition has been highly charged. The opposition uses a variety of arguments to advocate against a ban, from concerns about the price of alternative ammunition to concerns over the idea of regulating guns at all. Alternatives to lead bullets, such as non-toxic copper bullets, currently exist. Price increases from switching to these bullets are negligible compared to the impact it will have on wildlife across the country.
On the last day of President Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands. After being appointed by President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wasted no time in overturning this policy.
Now Zinke is out of office and the future direction of the Department of Interior is unclear.
Wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, scientists, public-health experts and even some hunters are advocating for the passage of a national ban on lead ammunition.
The ban on lead ammunition in California is already proving to be successful, even before the full ban goes into effect. A study on the impact of the California ban on Golden eagles and Turkey vultures found that lead exposure in both species significantly declined one year after the ban began. It was also found that the national ban on lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting saved an estimated 1.4 million ducks in 1997 alone.
A national ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle is a common-sense solution to this urgent issue. With a new Interior Secretary poised to enter the Trump administration, now is the time to ask for the restoration of the ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal land.
Help bald eagles and other animals by calling for a federal ban on lead ammunition. Sign the petition to make your voice heard!
This article was first published by Care2.com on 24 Feb 2019. Lead Image Source: The pochard’s numbers have fallen dramatically in Britain in the last 30 years. Photograph: Arto Hakola/Getty Images
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