Ever been invited on a snipe hunt? If you have or don’t know about a snipe hunt, politely smile and walk away. If you’re unfamiliar with this particular hunt, it’s a hunt for a quarry that doesn’t exist.
We’ve been invited on a few of these lately and have politely declined. Mostly, they’ve been invitations from well-meaning environmentalist-types whose hearts, we’d like to believe, are in the right place. But they’re sounding like Chicken Little who thinks the sky is falling.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has been busy shooting down misinformation that’s been flying in news reporting that traditional ammunition is the leading threat to the recovery of the American bald eagle. It’s been a long-simmering issue, but gained new life when environmental activists seized on it when the Obama administration moved to ban all traditional lead ammunition on all federal lands within five years. Director’s Order 219 was published on the final full day of the administration.
The opposition began their clucking when Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rode into town on a horse (literally) and as his first act, rolled back the order. His order stated the obvious. The ban was done without a law and without consultation with affected stakeholders, most importantly the sportsmen and women who hunt, fish and shoot recreationally.
Since then, there have been ruffled feathers that successful eagle recovery is on the brink because of lead-based ammunition. They’re scratching at every bit of information. One news organization actually crowed about the record number of 323 nesting eagle pairs in New York, while a partnered news outlet cried foul saying lead ammunition is the biggest threat to eagles. Many reports quote raptor rescue centers that are treating sick birds. But that’s not the eagle-eye view.
America’s eagle populations are soaring. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Alaska holds another 40-50,000. Eagle populations are so strong that the federal government removed them from the endangered species list in 1995 and further removed from the threatened wildlife list in 2007. This is a recovery success story that has involved hunters’ contributions by supporting firearms and ammunition sales that have paid over $11 billion into the Pittman-Robertson excise tax that supports conservation programs.
If you want to find sick people, look in hospitals. If you want to find sick eagles, look at rescue centers. The rescue centers tell us if eagles are to flood our skies, we need to ban all lead-based ammunition. Calls to ban traditional ammunition aren’t always about saving another eagle. Many times, they’re really about banning hunting – a tradition and way of life for many.
Chicken Little, the sky is still up there. There are more eagles in our skies than ever.