Lead Ammunition Threatens Wildlife: Lawsuit
June 9, 2012

Lead Ammunition Threatens Wildlife

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com

Lead bullets are having a major impact on wildlife populations and should be banned, according to a lawsuit filed by seven US conservation groups on Thursday against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The lawsuit follows an unsuccessful petition to the EPA by The Center for Biological Diversity and 100 other organizations that aimed to restrict the use of lead-based ammunition, which accounts for most bullets and shot used by sportsmen across the nation.

“Expended lead shot persists in the environment for a long time, and thousands of trumpeter swans have died recently from ingesting lead shot deposited by hunters decades ago,” said hunter John Cornely, executive director of The Trumpeter Swan Society in a statement.

“Hunters and anglers can provide leadership to prevent killing of non-target wildlife. Getting the lead out is in line with traditional conservation and hunting values.”

In disputing the petition, the EPA said it did not have the authority to regulate lead ammunition. That issue is now the center of the federal lawsuit in which environmentalists contend the EPA can make rules to limit lead exposure under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Perhaps ironically, the lawsuit comes the same day U.S. Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont., and John Thune, R-S.D., filed an amendment to the federal Farm Bill that would ban the EPA from regulating lead ammunition. The House has already passed legislation barring the EPA from regulating lead-based bullets.

While some hunters prefer to use copper bullets, which do not fragment like lead and are safer for the environment, groups like the National Rifle Association oppose any move to ban or regulate lead in ammunition.

There is a precedent for the regulations on lead ammo as a ban on hunters' use of lead shot for killing waterfowl was passed in the United States in the early 1990s. Advocates cited evidence that pointed to birds being poisoned by ingesting the pieces that fell into bodies of water, something that doesn´t always occur when hunting land animals.

Any attempt to regulate guns or ammunition of any kind within the U.S. always seems to spark a fresh political battle over gun rights and extent of government regulations. With this history in mind, The Center for Biological Diversity released a press statement explaining their position within the lawsuit.

“This action is not about restricting hunting–it´s about ending preventable lead poisoning of birds and reducing health risks for people eating lead-shot game,” Dick Preston, president of the Tennessee Ornithological Society said in the statement.

“The nonlead hunting regulations in California are a good model for hunting to continue with nontoxic materials.”

Spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Lawrence Keane said the real aim of the center and others was to end hunting, a claim that these groups denied.

"We have no anti-hunting agenda. In fact, we think a lot of hunters don't want their bullets to continue killing long after an animal is shot," Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the center, told Reuters.

As for health risks to humans, the National Shooting Sports Foundation cited a 2008 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study that showed no toxic lead levels in North Dakota hunters who used lead-based ammunition to harvest the game they ate.