Nine years ago a citizens advisory committee told the Department of Natural Resources it was someday inevitable that lead shot would be restricted for shotgun hunting because of concerns over lead’s toxicity.
That day might be near.
The DNR announced this week a proposed rule requiring hunters to use nontoxic shot on state wildlife management areas (WMAs) in Minnesota’s farmland zone. If approved, the lead-shot ban would begin in 2018. It would not affect WMAs in the forest region or private land, state forest and county forest land.
Minnesota has 1,524 state wildlife areas covering more than 1.3 million acres. About 1,300 parcels totaling 600,000 acres would be affected by the ban.
“We’re trying to reduce the amount of lead deposited on public land, especially wetlands,” said the DNR’s Jason Abraham. The rule would apply only to hunters using shotguns with shot, not shotguns with slugs or rifles.
It would mostly affect the state’s 70,000 pheasant hunters, many of whom hunt WMAs in southern Minnesota. The lead shot restriction also would affect those who hunt wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, woodcock or small game such as rabbits on state wildlife areas.
Lead shot has long been federally banned for waterfowl hunting. But since 1999 it also has been banned for upland hunters, too, on federal hunting lands in Minnesota, including waterfowl production areas (WPAs), some of which are adjacent to state WMAs.
A regulation banning lead shot will protect wildlife and support a healthy environment, the DNR said in a statement, adding that banning lead shot will improve the image of hunters, safeguard hunting opportunities and preserve the hunting heritage.
The DNR noted that loons, eagles, ravens, trumpeter swans and doves have died here or elsewhere from lead poisoning over the years.
“Reducing lead in environment is a good thing,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “It seems like it’s time to make the switch.”
There is no new evidence lead shot is causing problems on state wildlife areas, Abraham said. “This is something we’ve been meaning to do for a long time,” he said.
Ryan Bronson, conservation and public policy director for Federal Premium Ammunition in Anoka, was surprised by the DNR’s announcement.
“I don’t know what problem they are trying to solve,” he said. “There’s no data that any upland species are being negatively impacted.”
Federal employs 1,700 people at its Anoka plant, Bronson said.
Carrol Henderson, DNR nongame wildlife head, said many of the state’s wildlife areas contain wetlands.
“The start of our wildlife management area acquisition in the 1950s was called Save the Wetlands,” he said. “Almost all of the acreage in our program has been built around wetlands. So if you’re hunting pheasants on uplands, you’re almost always within shooting distance of wetlands.”
A lead shot restriction isn’t anti-hunting, Henderson said.
“It makes sense because of composition of our wildlife areas. And it makes sense because of the toxic effects of lead,” he said. “It doesn’t break down. Lead shot in the environment could poison ducks and wildlife 50 or 75 years from now.”
Landwehr said he switched long ago to nontoxic shotgun shells because he often hunts both federal waterfowl production areas, where lead is prohibited, and adjoining state wildlife management areas, where it is allowed.
“I’m alternating between WPAs and WMAs all the time,” he said. “Having only steel shot makes it less complicated and less likely I’ll inadvertently carry lead shot onto a WPA.”
The DNR has considered restricting the use of lead shot since 2006, and the agency proposed legislation to do so in 2008, but it didn’t garner support at the Legislature. It now will try to ban lead shot using its rule-making process. The DNR is taking public comments for at least 60 days, and, if approved, the rule would take effect Sept. 1, 2018.
According to a 2008 DNR survey, 60 percent of pheasant hunters used lead shot and 40 percent used steel or other nontoxic alternatives. No DNR hunter surveys have asked that question since.
In 2006, the DNR formed an 11-member Nontoxic Shot Advisory Committee to examine the issue. It included representatives from Pheasants Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Minnesota Conservation Federation, Audubon Minnesota, Federal Cartridge, Gander Mountain, the state Pollution Control Agency and state Department of Health, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Turn in Poachers and one member from DNR enforcement.
The group concluded it was inevitable lead shot must be restricted for all shotgun hunting at some future time, that restrictions should be phased in over time and that regulations should be simple, understandable and enforceable.
The group suggested five options, ranging from banning lead shot for dove hunting statewide to banning it for all small game on all public and private lands statewide. None was adopted.
Written comments may be submitted to DNR Wildlife, Box 20, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4020 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.