Earlier this month at a Minnesota Association of Conservation Professionals event, a Minnesota DNR employee, Molly Tranel, used dubious science and questionable statistics to attack the use of traditional ammunition (ammunition containing lead-core components) by sportsmen and shooters.
In her presentation, Ms. Tranel implied that the use of traditional ammunition poses a danger to (1) wildlife, in particular raptors such as bald eagles, that may feed on entrails of unrecovered game left in the field and (2) that there is a human health risk from consuming game harvested using traditional ammunition. Perhaps most troubling is the depths to which agenda-driven researchers will stoop. In one slide an experiment where researchers “force-fed” lead pellets to doves is discussed. And hunters are the bad guys?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, opposes efforts to ban or restrict the use of traditional ammunition unless there is sound science conclusively establishing an adverse impact on a wildlife population, the environment or on the human health of those consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition.
In recent years traditional ammunition has come under increased attack from anti-hunting groups. As such, when misinformation related to traditional ammunition surfaces, NSSF believes it must set the record straight. Let’s do that now:
With very limited exceptions, such as waterfowl and possibly the California condor, where, in the latter case the evidence of a causal connection to spent ammunition fragments is far from conclusive, there is simply no sound scientific evidence that the use by hunters of traditional ammunition is causing harm to wildlife populations. In the case of raptors, there is a total lack of any scientific evidence of a population impact. In fact, just the opposite is true. Hunters have long used traditional ammunition, yet raptor populations have significantly increased all across North America — a trend that shows no sign of letting up. If the use of traditional ammunition was the threat to raptor populations some make it out to be, these populations would not be soaring as they are.
Furthermore, it is the excise tax dollars (11 percent) manufacturers pay on the sale of ammunition – the very ammunition some choose to demonize – that is the primary source of wildlife conservation funding in the United States and the financial backbone of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The bald eagle’s recovery, a truly great conservation success story, was made possible and funded by hunters using traditional ammunition. Not surprisingly, recent statistics from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service show that from 1981 to 2006 the number of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the United States increased 724 percent.
Needlessly restricting or banning traditional ammunition absent sound science will hurt wildlife conservation efforts – efforts such as those that aided recovery of the Bald Eagle – because fewer hunters will take to the field, thereby undercutting financial wildlife management resources. Alternatives to traditional ammunition are not economical. The higher costs associated with this ammunition will price many everyday consumers out of the market. This is evidenced by the low 1 percent market share of metallic nontraditional ammunition –neither its higher cost, performance or benefits are justified.
Also necessary to clarify is the notion that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition poses a human health risk. This unjustified fear stems from a politically-motivated dermatologist in North Dakota who, in 2008, claimed to have collected from food pantries packages of venison that contained fragments from lead bullets. Many people became concerned and some officials overreacted to the allegations made by the dermatologist, who sits on the board of the Peregrine Fund, that consuming game posed a human health risk.
The state of North Dakota failed to conduct its own study. Instead, it merely accepted the lead-contaminated samples hand-picked by the dermatologist and submitted those samples to a lab in Iowa for testing. Based on those test results, North Dakota health officials ordered state food pantries to destroy all donated venison and to stop accepting further donations. The Iowa lab official in charge of the testing, Rick Kelly, was highly critical of North Dakota, “I think North Dakota is drawing the wrong conclusions. We did what they asked, but they did not take an arbitrary sample.” And the least fortunate among us were deprived of a high-protein, low-fat, organic food source.
To put this issue in perspective, consider this statement from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), a state agency that has tested the blood lead level of Iowa residents for over 15 years: “IDPH maintains that if lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened.” Iowa has never had a case of a hunter having elevated lead levels caused by consuming harvested game.
A study from 2008 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on blood lead levels of North Dakota hunters confirmed that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk. Calls to ban or restrict the product by groups opposed to traditional ammunition, like the Peregrine Fund, and anti-hunting groups, like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are scientifically unfounded and nothing more than a scare tactic to advance their agenda. In looking more closely at the CDC study results, perhaps most telling is the fact that the average lead level of the hunters tested was lower than that of the average American. In other words, if you were to randomly pick someone on the street, chances are they would have a higher blood lead level than the hunters in this study. Studies regarding the use of lead in other applications have no application when considering the use and utility of lead in ammunition for hunting, on shooting ranges or for self-defense.
The science of wildlife biology and conservation is based on managing populations of species, not on preventing harm to individual members of a species. Absent sound scientific evidence demonstrating a wildlife population or human health impact arising from the use of traditional ammunition, there is no justification for banning its use.