Thursday, March 9, 2017

Zinke Rolls Back Lead Ban

One of the topics from this week's, The Montana Dream Cast, was the rolling back of an Obama order on his last day that would ban the use of lead for hunting and fishing on Federal Game Refuges. It was Ryan Zinke's first order of business at the Capital and pretty much ended the efforts to ban the use of lead on all federal lands by the year 2022.

I know, your first thought might be, "Sweet! Less regulation, more opportunity for us outdoorsmen and women..."

There is science behind the ban and although I have found myself in the previous camp for years, I have been doing some research and now question that sentiment. Did you know that it only takes 1.27 grains of lead to poison an eagle? You see that .270 cartridge in the photo? That's 130 grains. Less than one percent of that bullet, if ingested by and eagle can kill it. For those upland bird hunters; if you're shooting #7 1/2's at huns or doves or grouse, one pellet from that shell can kill an eagle and a pellet from a BB shotgun shell has seven times that lethal dose.

While doing the research I did also find some opinions from the other side of the argument but I had to stop reading after only a few because it's just not rational and I'm tired of people not looking at the science and using arguments like, "Well, the bald eagle population is healthier than ever so what's the big deal with a few eagles dying?"

It's not just a few eagles, you...(whoops, I was about to offend some people.) It's the fact that it's eagles, hawks, owls, loons, fox, mink, and even all the way up the food chain to bears that could be affected by fragments from lead bullets and pellets from shotgun shells and even sinkers from anglers. Yes, bears. We joked about that on the podcast that a grizzly on a gut pile is probably safe but the reality is, he might not be. Although there hasn't been any evidence of bears dying from lead poisoning from spent ammunition, studies on gut piles do show the potential. And we have the opportunity to do something about it but because we're all so politically polarized and completely against any kind of change, nothing happens and we just go about our business with our heads in the sand regardless of the impact we're having on each other or the environment.

When I was kid, I remember the discussions on non-toxic shot for ducks and I was completely against it because of the price. It's true. Steel shot is more expensive than lead and back then, it was about double and I really didn't want to pay for that. But the price has come down and if you compare apples to apples, meaning you find shot size and loads that are equivalent, steel shot right now is about 25% higher than lead. So if you were spending $7 on a box of 6 shot, high base shells for huns and grouse, now you'd pay about nine bones. The more non-toxic shells that are our there, however, the more that cost will come down.

I know, another argument is the ballistic coefficient of lead versus steel and I have used that argument as an excuse why I didn't knock down that duck or goose a hundred times but then I started actually shooting a little better and to be honest, there's really not that much difference on shots that I should be taking. Will lead reach out a little further than steel? Probably but I've shot ducks at distances I had no business shooting with steel so if the bird is out that far, just let it go. There will be others.

Ok, so my real concern was with rifles and what the difference would be in cost and in ballistics and here's what I found. There are not a lot of options right now for non-toxic bullets but there were a couple. They were copper bullets and one box from HMS was the same price as the lead equivalent, granted, HMS is pretty expensive to begin with but even with the Federal shells, the price was within about $5 per box. The ballistics were almost identical. Again, the more the non-toxic cartridges are produced, the more the cost comes down.

As for the anglers, I am a little more skeptic about the impact of lead fishing gear on the environment but then I again, did a little research and although there might not be as much of an impact, sinkers and lead jig heads have definitely been the culprit, killing off many birds such as common loons and other piscivorous animals feeding on fish that may have broken off an angler's line. These occurrences seem to be a little more localized or regional but it does show an impact. Birds also pick up sinkers and use them in their gullets to help grind their food and there is evidence of ducks and other waterfowl ingesting sinkers as they forage for invertebrates in the mud.

As Scott and I talked about on the podcast, I think there should be a discussion on how far to go to prevent our impact on the environment and what we can do to prevent lead poisoning in wildlife. What is the risk and how much effort do we have to put in to solve the problem? (I certainly am interested in people's perspective on this but PLEASE DO NOT USE THE DEFENSE OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT AS YOUR ARGUMENT!)

When I bring up this question though, it seems a little silly. We have the technology. We have the industry that would love to make a couple more dollars on a box of shells or a pouch of sinkers. Lead poisoning from spent ammo and fishing tackle is 100% controllable so what was the question?

Keep 'em where they live...

1 comment:

  1. Non-lead bullets have been encouraged in Grand Teton National Park for a couple years and they offer vouchers for hunters to lessen the financial burden. It was found that lead fragments from elk hunters was having a negative impact in eagles feeding on carcasses as the lead fragments on impact. They have also found a decrease in lead levels in eagles since it has become more encouraged to use non-lead ammo. Grizzlies feeding on carcasses in Grand Teton is becoming an issue as well. I've been using copper for nearly ten years with no issue. Here is a link to one of the studies

    Personally, I do not see any issue with requiring non-toxic ammo and non-lead fishing tackle. I make that choice already. The tackle is less of an issue, but it does have an impact and it's just as easy to grab the non-lead weight off the shelf as it is to grab the toxic stuff. How often do you buy weights anyway?