I appreciate the efforts of Rick Scott (“Conservation, courtesy of hunters? Yes,” Nov. 16), to point out the longstanding role that America’s hunters have played in wildlife conservation. I have hunted for 57 years and consider myself both a hunter and conservationist, both for game and nongame.
However, I wish to clarify some issues. Scott refers to “traditional ammunition.” What he is really referring to is lead ammunition.
There is an increasing body of evidence that lead bullet fragments create a toxic hazard to wildlife that scavenge on unretrieved game animals and deer gutpiles left in the outdoors. Those remains can poison wildlife ranging from California condors to bald eagles, golden eagles, vultures and more. California has just approved legislation requiring a change to nontoxic ammo for all hunting by 2019.
Microscopic lead bullet fragments in venison also present a health risk to hunters and their families. Response to this human health question requires only common sense. We shouldn’t eat toxic metals. Lead has already been banned in paint, gasoline and children’s toys because of the health risk to humans.
Scott claims that there is a lack of evidence that bald eagles become sick during hunting season. They don’t just “get sick.” They are dying.
The loss of bald eagles from eating deer gutpiles containing lead bullet fragments is very well documented by the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. A recent report reviewed data from 1,277 bald eagles admitted to the center from 1996 to 2009. It showed that 334 (26 percent) of the eagles had lethal lead levels and that 80 percent of the remaining eagles had elevated lead levels. This lead poisoning was correlated with the month of admission (mainly during the fall firearms deer season) and within the northern rifle zone.
This study was not done to criticize hunters or deer hunting, and it was not an antihunting effort. In fact, Dr. Pat Redig at the Raptor Center is a hunter and a falconer.
The number of eagles dying from lead poisoning is not enough to cause the bald eagle population to decline. But that is not the point. The continuing loss of eagles to avoidable mortality does not place deer hunters in a positive light for members of the American public who value bald eagles as our national bird.
If we as hunters wish to preserve our image as conservationists, we need to be proactive regarding this issue, acknowledge the facts and not be defensive and in denial about lead impacts on raptors and human health.
As we better understand and accept the negative impacts of lead, we as hunters can better sustain our conservationist image and hunting traditions by adapting to the use of nontoxic ammo as we enjoy our hunting heritage in Minnesota’s great outdoors.
Carrol Henderson is supervisor of the Nongame Wildlife Program for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.