Column: Get the lead out — danger to man and beastHunters can use alternatives to lead ammunition, primarily in the form of copper.
By: John Jordan, For the Budgeteer News
As volunteer Ian Aldrich stirs the formula that will become nutritious food for orphaned mammals, the phone rings. “Wildwoods Wildlife Rehabilitation, can I help you?” It’s the tenth call to Wildwoods today.
(On sunny days, Wildwoods receives lots of calls. On rainy ones, Wildwoods receives far fewer calls, perhaps because fewer members of the public are outdoors.)
Ian takes some notes and ends the call: “OK. Can you bring it here? Thanks. We’ll see you soon.”
Another adventure is about to unfold for Wildwoods.
“We have a bald eagle coming. Should be here in an hour,” Ian tells me. “Sounds like another lead poisoning. It’s very sick. Her wings are drooping and she has trouble standing.”
Lead poisoning is among the most heartbreaking dimensions of wildlife rehabilitation. Ian turns away to get the intake paperwork ready and says, “I hope we can keep this one alive long enough to get it to the Raptor Center at the U of M for treatment and rehabilitation.”
This scenario plays out far too often at Wildwoods. For “eagle,” substitute any of more than 100 species affected by lead, including loons, waterfowl, and coyote. You get the picture.
Wildwood’s mission is to care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. In many cases, the problem is lead poisoning.
What are the dangers of lead?
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause serious illness to the nervous and reproductive systems of animals who consume it. Lead poisoning in birds can cause anemia, weight loss, drooping wings, weakness, crash landings, inability to fly, diarrhea, and death.
According to Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity, “The EPA has taken steps to address toxic lead in almost every available product from gasoline to plumbing to toys.” But lead is still poisoning our wildlife and those humans who consume contaminated meat from those animals.
Where does this lead come from? In the fall, the source is primarily from lead projectiles used by hunters. They may leave discarded portions of the animal behind in the field, including flesh damaged by the lead shot or bullets. Eagles and other carnivores eat this easy meal, including the lead fragments, resulting in lead poisoning and perhaps an agonizing death.
The hunting community has already cooperated in the elimination of lead shot during waterfowl season in many areas. In our western states, the California condor was near extinction until action was taken, with the cooperation of hunters, to eliminate lead projectiles in the areas where condors live.
Fishing sinkers and tackle made of lead create a similar problem when waterfowl mistake lead for the gravel their digestion requires.
Our message at Wildwoods is not anti-hunting or -fishing. We can choose to enjoy wildlife and the natural world around us in many different ways, whether we are ardent birdwatchers, hikers, hunters, fishermen, or whatever our outdoor passion may be.
However, Wildwoods does promote alternatives that can decrease the senseless loss of wildlife due to lead poisoning. At the same time we act to protect our wildlife, we can decrease lead contamination in the meat and fish that we bring home to the family table.
How do we decrease this risk to animals and to ourselves?
Hunters can use alternatives to lead ammunition, primarily in the form of copper. When lead hits its target it fragments into hundreds of pieces. On the other hand, research shows that copper projectiles will mushroom but stay intact.
In addition, copper is not toxic and does not cause poisoning if consumed.
While copper ammo may be more expensive than some brands of lead, when the number of shots taken per hunter is considered, the benefits of copper are a bargain.
In the words of Paul Smith, Outdoors Editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “I view the choice of copper bullets as pro-hunting. It's an opportunity to reduce the risk of wildlife poisonings and demonstrate a higher level of responsibility to the non-hunting public.”
Similarly, anglers can choose to purchase lead-free alternatives made of tin, steel or other non-toxic metals.
So, if you love the outdoors and our animal neighbors who live in it, you will want to act to correct the unneeded loss of wildlife from lead poisoning.
Take the time to act responsibly.
For more information about Wildwoods and how you can help wildlife, visit www.wildwoodsrehab.org.
John Jordan is an experienced volunteer for both Wildwoods and Animal Allies, bringing a gentle touch to animals in need of all types.