Lead Ban Chronicles – The Sad State Of Education About Lead Ammo
April 26, 2012
I believe that lead bullets, bullet fragments, and shot are killing condors. Whether it’s the “number one” threat to their survival is debatable, but I’m convinced that the evidence is clear. When a condor feeds on a carcass or gutpile and ingests lead, there is a real possibility that the lead will sicken and possibly kill the bird.
I’m not saying that they don’t get lead from other sources too. In fact, I’m pretty sure they do. There’s metallic lead all over the landscape in the west, from paint chips on old homesteads and barns, to lead-coated telegraph wire, to tire weights and other micro-trash. I have little doubt that all of these factor into the mortality rate. But so do hunters’ bullets.
How was I convinced? By reading, constantly, since this issue first came to my attention. There is no shortage of information out there, and if you can sift through it, even a layman can make enough sense of it to see what’s going on. I also learned by talking to people involved in the research and remediation programs. While it’s been pretty easy to assign an anti-hunting/anti-gun agenda to the condor recovery folks, the truth is that many of the people on the inside of this thing are actually quite supportive of hunting… and are often hunters themselves. They don’t want to ban hunting, or guns… and in most cases, they don’t even want to ban lead ammunition.
Call me naive, but I don’t think that’s just lip service. I believe them, and I believe that they truly just want to see the condor survive. Beyond that, they want to see hunters voluntarily reduce their negative impacts on other birds, particularly raptors. And one way to do that is to be more conscientious about the ammunition we use, and in how we dispose of the byproducts of the hunt… the carcass and offal. See, it’s not all about switching to lead-free ammo. There are other things we can be doing to minimize the impact of lead ammo. But few people get to hear that part of the discussion anymore.
The problem is a common one in this age of instantaneous information exchange (the Internet) and extreme polarization of political attitidues. Add to that the fact that extreme organizations have taken up the “cause”, and with a barrage of misinformation, propaganda, and dogma they’ve painted the situation in an entirely different light. It became a battle of “us” vs. “them”… hunters and gun owners against the anti-hunters and anti-gun folks. The real issue (the survival of the California condor) was soon lost amidst the noise, and voices of reason were drowned under hyperbole, hysteria, and outright lies.
It’s come to the point where the Center for Biological Diversity (an organization I once respected) has gathered a coalition to repeatedly petition the EPA to ban lead bullet components outright. Of course the problem is that the CBD does not have any evidence to support a federal ban on the basis of environmental or human health risks, despite the fact that their petition makes both claims. Besides the endangered California condor, no other raptor, scavenger, or other species is at large scale risk from the continued use of lead ammunition. Individual birds are dying, which is tragic, but hardly cause for a national ban on something as widely used as lead ammunition.
Each petition is, of course, followed by a lawsuit, and each lawsuit fails. But every time the situation requires the assignment of Federal Government resources. This costs money. It’s a contest of attrition. (In California, the impending costs of defending lawsuits had more to do with the passage of AB 821 than the smattering of scientific evidence presented to the Commission.) The CBD has nothing better to do than batter the walls of the EPA indefinitely. Sooner or later, like Jericho, the walls will probably come down.
The CBD has also become a public relations juggernaut, flooding newspapers, magazines and blogs with “press releases” claiming that lead bullets are responsible for the wholesale destruction of bird populations, from mourning doves and swans to bald eagles. Despite the fact that the releases are full of misinformation, readers are buying it because they simply don’t know any better. Non-hunters and hunters alike are suddenly decrying the use of lead, and attacking hunters and shooters who still use this arcane and lethal ammunition… all based on spurious claims that are unquestionably repeated in the media.
And in this corner, the NRA…
The 800 lb. gorilla knows nothing of finesse or subtlety. In concert with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the NRA has issued release after release to its constituency claiming that the lead ban effort is nothing but an anti-hunting/anti-gun sneak attack and has absolutely no merit. Rather than attack the CBD’s claims with fact, the organization resorts to the same campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering to carry the message that lead ammo is benign and “traditional”.
People aren’t hearing what they need to hear… especially hunters.
I recently read a letter to the editor in the Ventura County Star, in which the writer attempted to explain that a wind power project was not a threat to condors. He then made the rhetorical mistake (in my opinion) of comparing the negligible threat of wind farms to the threat from lead ammo. Right or wrong, he unleashed a firestorm of comments which were, unfortunately, entirely uneducated about the lead ammo issue. At this time, I really thought people knew a little more about the situation, but I guess I over-estimated… again.
It’s time, past time, for education… not propaganda. Let the battle continue in Washington, D.C. I hope right and reason win the day. But for our immediate needs, it’s really important that we start talking sense about lead ammo, it’s real impacts, and provide people with the information they need to make the personal decisions about what changes they want to make.
Call me stupid, but I honestly believe that most hunters don’t want to incidentally kill birds or animals that they’re not targeting. None of us wants to poison an eagle, or even a raven. Of course, statistically, I think most of us are perfectly OK if we never change a thing… especially those of us who aren’t hunting in the condor zones. The odds of our specific bullet or shot pellets poisoning a raptor are fairly slim. But the chance is there, and I know a lot of conscientious hunters out there who would like to mitigate that chance.
The problem is, whenever a site shows up to provide that information, such as the Peregrine Fund or Wildlife Studies Institute, they’re immediately lumped in with the anti-hunting/anti-gun organizations and discounted. Or else, they’re just ignored. We’ve somehow got to get past this.
I also think educating individuals is good and well, but the truth is that real education needs to start at higher levels. On the media side, we need to hear voices of reason coming from the movers and shakers in the big magazines, major blogs, and even on the television. The opportunities abound. For example, Pig Man has been sponsored by Hornady for a while now, and has used the Hornady GMX bullet quite extensively. The GMX is lead free, but that fact has seldom been mentioned. He uses the bullet because it’s effective. I doubt the lead-free aspect has any bearing at all, but it would still be worth mention.
I know some of the major outdoor media sources are probably a little timid about diving into the politically charged waters, but there’s no need to make it a political issue. Simply present it as a personal choice with some rationale. Don’t force it down anyone’s throat. Or do! I’d love to see some of the top hunting magazines come out and write a clear article about the lead ammo issue, the real threats as they’re currently understood, and various practices hunters and shooters can take to mitigate those threats. But all I’ve seen so far either tip-toes around it or regurgitates press releases from the NSSF.
Education is also badly, badly needed at gunshops. These places are often hotbeds of misinformation and myth anyway, and some of the things I’ve heard about lead free ammo are almost funny… except these folks really believe it. What’s more, they’re passing this on to customers who are trying to make a good ammo-buying decision. Nothing is going to stop a gun shop owner or employee from passing along an opinion to a customer. That is simply a fact. But if someone could present some non-political information about lead ammo, performance, and other choices that can mitigate lead impact (such as bonded bullets, shotgun slugs, etc.) to these folks, it would go a long way to helping customers make good choices. An ideal place for a forum like this, by the way, would be the SHOT Show University, which offers several training programs to people in the gun and ammo industry. But it wouldn’t hurt to take the message to the small, local shops as well.
We need honest conversation now.