The Bald Eagle is an American icon – and it is a sad day when hunters and anglers are cast as adversaries of this icon. Recently, a number of media stories have attempted to create false impressions about hunters, the ammunition they use, and about animal health via subtle but disingenuous arguments. The argument goes something like this – “The Trump administration has struck down a ban on lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle on federal lands, and the eagles are dying!” That does sound dire, on its face. No hunter or angler wants dead eagles! But, if you are like me, something doesn’t quite sound right about that argument… and you are correct. It’s a false argument, and here are five reasons why.
1. There is a causality argument that the “overturning” of the lead ban is leading to more mortality among wildlife. The fact is that the ban on all lead products on federal lands was instituted on the very last day of the outgoing Obama administration and was overturned on the first day of the new Trump administration. Thus, it was never truly implemented.
2. There is a wildlife population reality that is ignored – According to the great people out at Montezuma National Wildlife refuge, 42 years ago there was one nesting pair of bald eagles in New York. Now there are about 350 pairs. During this record growth of the bald eagle population policies were instituted to include federal protection of raptors, banning DDT and banning lead shot for waterfowl hunting. But, other than for waterfowl hunting, lead ammunition was and still is in use during this remarkable growth.
3. During the early 1900s, wildlife was dwindling in numbers or disappearing. Because of this, the ammunition industry stepped forward and asked Congress to impose an excise tax on firearms and ammunition products to help fund wildlife conservation in the US. The Pittman-Robertson Act was enacted in 1938. Since its inception, $11 billion has been collected from manufacturers and awarded to states making firearms and ammunition companies the largest contributors to conservation. Much of the success of the eagle population can be traced back to these excise tax dollars, and the hunters and anglers who provide them.
4. Sportsmen and women do care about conservation, and engage beyond the obligatory excise tax mentioned above. For example, after concerns about lead contamination first emerged in the 1970s, environmentalists and sportsmen joined forces to address the problem. According to a Christian Science Monitor report, The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the nation's largest conservation group and a pro-hunting organization, petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service for an immediate ban on the use of lead shot in six counties in Midwestern and Western states in an effort to protect eagles and waterfowl from lead poisoning.... and called for the establishment of similar nontoxic-shot zones in 89 other areas nationwide .... Lead poisoning became a major issue in the hunting community in the mid-1970s, after a federal study estimated that between 1.6 and 2.4 million waterfowl died annually from swallowing lead shot. The result? The US Fish and Wildlife Service answered the hunters’ petition in 1991, with a ban on the use of lead shot for waterfowl.
5. In the end, its less about Pb and more about process - “Having less lead in the water and soil is better for wildlife,” Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s president and chief executive officer, told the Huffington Post recently. “But the best way to do this is not through a policy in the last few days of an administration but to have a science-based collaborative process with sportsmen and states that comes to a solution.” “I think most sportsmen want the same outcome,” he continued, “which is healthier wildlife, but the question is the best way to get there to make sure that the outdoor experience isn’t harmed in the short term.”