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Ban Lifted That Would Have Protected Birds From Lead Ammo Poisoning

Wikimedia Commons - Paul Lenz

In his last days in office, President Obama adopted a ban on lead ammunition for hunting to protect scavengers from lead poisoning. Last week, as one of his first acts in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted that ban.

Numerous scientific studies show that eagles, ravens, condors and other scavengers that feed on carcasses killed with lead bullets have a much higher likelihood of lead poisoning. Natural Science curator Charles Preston at the Draper Museum in Cody said that can cause problems with bird reproduction and can even kill them.

One study in Jackson by Craighead Beringia South saw a decrease in poisoning when scientists gave away non-lead alternative ammo. But in a statement, Secretary Zinke said those alternatives are still expensive and hard to come by for ordinary hunters.

Preston agreed it may be too early for an outright ban on lead ammo. 

“There's a great opportunity for American ingenuity and innovation where the sporting community and the ammunition manufacturers can work together to develop affordable and widely available alternatives to lead ammunition,” said Preston

Preston said, he thinks it’s wise for Secretary Zinke to take another look at the science behind lead ammo poisoning in wildlife.

“What's the best way to fix it? An all-out ban all at once may not be the best approach. So Secretary Zinke will take a long look at this. But also, I'd love to see this be a more grassroots effort with sportsmen and conservationists because sportsmen are really the original conservationists in this country,” said Preston.

Wildlife groups say as many as 20 million birds and animals a year die due to lead exposure from such ammunition.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.

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