Lead bullets kill more than hunting game in the United States
Bald eagles and golden eagles are being decimated by frequent and widespread lead poisoning from hunters’ rifles across the United States, a new study shows.
By examining the carcasses of 1,210 eagles that died in 38 US states over eight years, scientists from the US Geological Survey, Conservation Science Global (USGS) found that half of the birds had high levels of lead – a poison they had probably ingested by consuming contaminated food. stag.
This is the first study to show the consequences of lead poisoning on predatory birds on such a large scale.
According to the USGS scientists behind the study, repeated exposure to lead hinders the population growth of bald eagles and golden eagles, which are protected species in the United States and who have just come back from the brink of extinction.
In the 20th century, both species were disappearing due to the widespread use of the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, which was later banned.
Both species have increased their numbers dramatically in recent decades. While bald eagles are endemic to the United States and their population continues to grow by an average of 10% each year, lead poisoning threatens to tip the number of golden eagles in the country to a dramatic decline. .
A study conducted by researchers from the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health at Cornell University in New York estimated that ingesting hunter bullets left in wildlife retarded bird population growth by 6.3% for males and 4.3% for females.
Researchers are now urging hunters to switch from lead bullets to copper bullets.
Why do hunters still use lead in the United States?
Lead poisoning is no longer a problem for eagles in the UK, where their population is now booming thanks to rewilding efforts, says Roy Dennis, a Scottish eagle specialist and conservationist.
Dennis is a big fan of eagles and is dedicated to protecting these predatory birds: he recently successfully restored the population of white-tailed eagles in England, where the species had been extinct for 240 years.
He said hunters in the UK have massively switched to lead-free for their ammunition, choosing copper over the toxic material as the substance that does not shatter into wildlife when fired.
He said there are still small groups of hunters who use lead, but they pose a minor threat.
The situation is very similar in Europe. Germany, Denmark and Sweden totally ban lead ammunition. In 2020, the European Union took the historic decision to ban lead bullets for hunting in the bloc’s wetlands.
But lead bullets are still very common in the United States.
Over the past decade, the number of studies proving that lead poisoning poses a risk to wildlife and humans has grown, as have calls to ban lead ammunition in the United States.
In 2017, in the final days of President Barack Obama’s second administration, outgoing US Director of Fish and Wildlife Dan Ashe banned the use of lead ammunition in National Wildlife Areas. But the ban was short-lived, as it was quickly reversed under the Trump administration.
Although many are aware of the negative impact of lead bullets, the American hunting community resists a blanket ban on lead ammunition.
Hunters seem mostly concerned about the higher cost of copper bullets compared to lead bullets and the fear that lead-free ammunition will perform just as well.
And — you might not be surprised — it’s a matter of principle: Hunters believe they’re defending the Second Amendment against what they believe is an attempt to curtail the rights it grants American citizens.
In the summer of 2020, California successfully imposed a total ban on lead ammunition for wildlife hunting across the state. However, only a year later, a proposal to ban lead ammunition failed to pass in New York.