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Republicans propose law that lessens rules on wildlife-killing lead ammunition

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Lead bullets are deadly to wildlife. Secondary exposure to lead also kills and maims other animals and can harm people.

The Republican-dominated House will vote Tuesday on H.R. 3590, an ill-conceived law called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.”

The law would expand hunting and fishing on public lands but conservationists see it as a sneaky way to block efforts under the Environmental Protection Act to protect birds, raptors and other animals from lead exposure.

The law would also promote trophy hunting, including for polar bears. It would undermine the Wilderness Act that protects wild places from the intrusion of human activity and it aims to thwart environmental reviews for projects in national wildlife refuges.

“Another cynical assault by House Republicans to roll back protections for public lands and wildlife,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This supposed ‘sportsmen’s legislation’ would actually jeopardize the health of hunters, promote needless lead poisoning of our wildlife and prevent hunters, anglers and other members of the public from weighing in on decisions about how to manage 150 million acres of federal land and water.”

Lead shotgun pellets have been banned since 1992 for use in shooting waterfowl but pellets are still used for other purposes and birds mistake the spent ammunition for food. Scavenger birds die or become crippled when they eat lead-poisoned carcasses.

According to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity there are approximately 14,000 tons of deadly lead pellets distributed throughout the US by upland bird hunters every year.

Republicans want to exempt toxic lead ammunition and lead fishing sinkers from EPA regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act with the implementation of H.R. 3590, although there are safe alternatives.

The Center’s research shows that, “spent lead from hunting is a widespread killer of more than 75 species of birds such as bald eagles, endangered condors, loons and swans and nearly 50 mammals. More than 265 organizations in 40 states have been pressuring the EPA to enact federal rules requiring use of nontoxic bullets and shot for hunting and shooting sports."

The US Humane Society estimates that 10 to 20 million birds and animals die tortuous deaths up and down the food chain every year. From frogs and mice to deer and grizzly bears, the exposure to even small amounts of lead can kill the animal or cripple it to a non-survivable level.

Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a ban on all lead ammunition to protect the endangered condors in his state, in spite of efforts by Arizona Republican John McCain, who asked Brown to urge voluntary compliance instead.

McCain argued that such a ban would hurt sports hunters and special interest groups.

Critics say that if banning lead had been left on a voluntary level paint, gasoline plastics and other products would still contain the lethal stuff.

One environmentalist recalled a decades-old childhood memory of a pet squirrel that fell over dead seconds after chewing peanut butter off a kitchen implement that contained lead, which is a powerful neurotoxin.

Many alternatives are available to lead ammunition, which explodes into dozens of fragments within the body of animal meat, posing a health hazard to anything that consumes it, including humans.

Alternatives include the use of steel, copper and bismuth but in sponsoring a law like H.R. 3590 Republicans show how resistant they are to change. They have a track record more beholden to the status quo and special interests than moving forward on a new path that benefits nature, wildlife or people who aren't under their tent of acceptance.

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