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Minnesota to require nontoxic ammo for state park, SNA hunts

Groups have pushed for broader ban on toxic lead ammunition.

Nontoxic ammunition, copper bullets
A new box of Federal Premium Trophy Copper ammunition in .308 Winchester, a popular caliber for Minnesota deer hunting. The Minnesota DNR is moving to require nontoxic ammunition in special hunts in state parks and SNAs bit continues to rebuff broader efforts to ban toxic lead ammunition.
Contributed / Federal Premium Ammunition Co.

In a small victory for supporters of a move to nontoxic ammunition for all hunting, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say they will enact new regulations requiring nontoxic bullets and shotgun shot in state parks and state scientific and natural areas where special hunts are held.

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen quietly announced the decision in a letter to the Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas on Dec. 20. The agency made no public announcement.

The DNR said the changes “will be implemented over the next year through orders or DNR procedures that do not require changes to Minnesota rules or statutes. We will provide more details on the implementation and timeline of the changes as they are available.”

The DNR continues to deny formal petitions for a broader ban on lead ammunition.

Read more about the issue
A growing number of deer hunters are using non-toxic ammunition.

Supporters of nontoxic shot for hunting have for years pushed for a much broader regulation requiring unleaded shot for all hunting, or at least on all state-managed lands. Lead from spent bullets and shot is still needlessly killing wildlife, especially raptors such as eagles that feed on gut piles or dead animals. Lead poisoning is a leading factor in sick birds brought to the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center.

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Others note that lead fragments are commonly found in venison intended for human consumption, often at levels above federal guidelines for lead, a potent neurotoxin.

Supporters — including many hunters and conservation groups — say they will be back at the state legislature this year supporting bills that broaden the requirement of unleaded shot, noting ample alternatives exist for nontoxic shot. Nontoxic shot has been required for all waterfowl hunting for decades.

Strommen left the door open for further action on the issue of lead poisoning of wildlife, but only with broad-based support, writing that the DNR “is committed to working with the petitioners, legislators, tribal governments, wildlife watchers, tackle and ammunition producers, hunters and anglers to facilitate an inclusive conversation over the next year about any actions that would be above and beyond those that we have outlined in this letter.”

Hunting is generally prohibited in most of the state’s 166 SNAs and 66 state parks. But about 70 of the state’s 166 SNAs are open to limited types of hunting and, this past deer season, there were more than 50 special rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader deer hunts in state parks. The new regulations are expected to impact only a few thousand hunters, however, out of more than 400,000 deer hunters in the state.

Meanwhile, efforts also continue at the Capitol in St. Paul to push legislation banning the use of small lead fishing tackle, namely jigs and sinkers under a half-ounce, that are known to kill loons that ingest them.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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