Lead Ammunition Poisons Wildlife But Too Expensive To Change, Hunters Say Just before leaving office, the Obama administration banned the use of lead ammunition on federal land. Some hunters want President Trump to reverse the ban.

Lead Ammunition Poisons Wildlife But Too Expensive To Change, Hunters Say

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The day before Donald Trump's inauguration, the outgoing Obama administration passed a last-minute directive banning the use of lead ammunition and fishing sinkers on federal lands. The regulation is intended to protect wildlife from lead poisoning. But hunters are hoping the Trump administration will overturn it - and soon. WPSU's Eleanor Klibanoff reports.

ELEANOR KLIBANOFF, BYLINE: The big draw at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in northeastern Pennsylvania is out back.


KLIBANOFF: In large wire enclosures, there are hawks, vultures and a beautiful bald eagle recovering from a run-in with a car. A few weeks ago, an officer from the Pennsylvania Game Commission brought the wildlife rescue another bald eagle. But this one didn't look quite so elegant.

SUSAN GALLAGHER: Sometimes, you just get a gut feeling what's wrong with these birds, and our gut said this was lead poisoning.

KLIBANOFF: Chief naturalist Susan Gallagher said the bird was vomiting and had lime-green diarrhea, along with other classic symptoms.

GALLAGHER: Bird comes in with its head down and its hackles up - the feathers on the back of its neck are up. It looks a little disoriented. The bird had all of those problems. And they just look like they don't feel well.

KLIBANOFF: It's hard to know exactly how lead fragments got into this eagle's gizzard, but the most common source is ammunition. Eagles and other birds scavenge remains left behind by hunters, ammo included. This is what the Obama administration was trying to stop with the ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle on most federal lands. Environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland, Calif., have been advocating for this kind of action for years. Jonathan Evans is the environmental health legal director

JONATHAN EVANS: Waterfowl hunters have been successfully using lead-free ammunition nationwide for decades, ever since lead shot was phased out in 1991.

KLIBANOFF: Evans thinks the Obama directive is a good start, but he wants to see that 1991 ban extended to all ammunition and fishing gear on all public lands. The difference is then, there was conclusive proof that lead was harming the population of waterfowl.

LAWRENCE KEANE: Bald eagle populations are soaring in the United States. I mean, they're at record levels.

KLIBANOFF: Lawrence Keane is senior vice president at the National Shooting Sports Foundation. He opposes the ban because he doesn't think it's necessary and it will make hunting more expensive.

KEANE: There's no reason to ban traditional ammunition unless there's evidence of a population impact and that's the only solution to address that problem.

KLIBANOFF: Unlike eagles and most wildlife, lead does have population-level effects on condors, an endangered species living mostly in California and Arizona. Those states, along with a handful of others, have instituted lead-reduction programs. California has the most wide-ranging ban on lead ammunition, while Arizona has tried a voluntary approach, offering hunters copper ammunition free of charge.

The Obama directive complements these state-level programs - if it survives. President Donald Trump has promised to undo many of the Obama-era regulations, though this specific issue hasn't been addressed yet. Back at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, Susan Gallagher is convinced hunters don't need laws or proof of population change to choose non-lead ammunition. They just need to spend a little time with a lead-poisoned eagle.

GALLAGHER: Had you seen this bird suffer and go through what it went through and then walked into a sporting goods store, absolutely. You'd make that choice, absolutely.

KLIBANOFF: Despite round-the-clock rehydration and chelation treatments, the eagle died a few days after he was brought to the center.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Klibanoff in State College, Pa.


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