The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday said it will pass on a request to ban lead fishing tackle and lead ammunition in the state, instead punting the hot debate to the state Legislature.
The DNR said it had received a formal petition from several conservation and environmental groups in September seeking the lead ban.
The ban would follow several other state and federal government efforts seeking to reduce human and animal exposure to lead, a highly toxic material that’s already been banned in paint, gasoline and in lead shot used for hunting migratory waterfowl.
High exposure to lead kills many birds every year, including loons that ingest lead sinkers and other tackle, and eagles that ingest bits of lead bullets when feeding on deer carcasses.
Lead is also a potent neurotoxin for humans, and is especially harmful to the brains of developing children. Lead in water pipes has been a major issue in many cities in recent years.
Efforts a decade ago to ban small lead fishing tackle failed to advance at the Legislature under heavy pressure from a multitude of Minnesota companies that said it would cost jobs, and would cost anglers more money when buying tackle.
Some 26 states have banned lead ammunition for small-game hunting, the DNR noted. California has already banned lead ammunition for all hunting, and many ammunition manufacturers offer lead-free alternatives for bullets such as copper. Federal law for decades has demanded the use of steel and other nontoxic shot for duck and goose hunting. Minnesota banned lead shot on state hunting areas in 1987 after reports of dead eagles and other birds that had ingested lead shot.
The University of Minnesota Raptor Center says lead bullet fragments are a major cause of eagle sickness and death among birds it treats. Wildlife officials say loons continue to ingest small lead sinkers and jigs and die. Unleaded options include relatively cheap tin, bismuth and steel and more expensive tungsten.
But the DNR said the petition is better suited for the Legislature to tackle after a thorough debate among stakeholders.
In the Sept. 3 formal petition, the groups requested that the DNR enact its own rules banning the possession and use of lead or other toxic fishing tackle on Minnesota waters located within the common loon range; prohibit the taking of wild animals within Minnesota while possessing or using bullets containing lead or other toxic materials; and prohibit the taking of wild animals within Minnesota with shotshells other than those loaded with steel shot, copper-plated shot, nickel-plated shot, zinc-plated steel shot, or shot made of other nontoxic materials approved by the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The DNR said it is denying the request “after careful consideration of the petition and review of more than 20 years of data and stakeholder input related to this subject … and the DNR’s conclusion that potential restrictions on the use of lead ammunition and tackle should be considered by the Minnesota Legislature.”
“A decision of this magnitude must involve engagement with the full range of stakeholders that could be affected by the decision,’’ the agency said in a news release Monday.
“While the DNR has denied the petition for rulemaking, the agency believes the human health and environmental impacts of lead ammunition and tackle do warrant further study and discussion,’’ the release noted. “The DNR is committed to working with the petitioners, legislators, tribal governments, hunters and anglers to facilitate a more inclusive conversation on the possibility of future restrictions on the use of lead and other toxic ammunition and tackle.”
The DNR's final decision was written in a 12-page “Findings of Fact and Order” dated Nov. 4 and signed by DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
Petitioners included the Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas, the Austin Coalition for Environmental Sustainability, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Friends of the Mississippi River, Humming for Bees, the Mankato Area Environmentalists, the Minnesota Ornithologists Union, the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, Save Our Sky Blue Waters, the St. Croix River Association, the MN Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, and Wilderness in the City.