THOMSON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is encouraging hunters to voluntarily use non-lead ammunition, especially for deer hunting, in an effort to save bald eagles.
The agency collected 58 bald eagles in 2012 that had been found dead in various locations throughout the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and examined them for lead exposure, the agency said Thursday in a news release.
According to the release:
The eagles were sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., where “60 percent had detectable lead and 38 percent had concentrations within the lethal range for lead poisoning.”
Additionally, Iowa State University researchers conducted a study during 2012 and 2013, where they collected fecal samples at 54 active bald eagle nests on the refuge. The results found that 94 percent of the samples contained detectable amounts of lead.
Lead bullets, which are used by many hunters, can fragment inside a deer. In the winter, scavenging bald eagles feed on carcasses and gut piles left in the field by hunters, and can be exposed to the lead fragments.
With the exception of deer, squirrel and non-game hunting, like coyote or fox, non-lead ammunition is required in the refuge, the release said.
Jeff Clark, owner of Amboy Sporting Goods, 42 E. Main St., said he doesn’t think many hunters will rush to change ammunition.
“There might be a few people that might switch if they can prove that eagles are dying from it,” he said. “But the vast majority won’t change.”
Switching from lead ammunition to copper or alloy brings with it an increased cost, Clark said.
Hunters may also be slow to change because they’re skeptical of the connection between lead ammunition and eagle deaths, since lead ammunition has been used for a long time, Clark said.
In 1991, a nationwide ban on lead ammunition was instituted for waterfowl hunting, after a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lawsuit claimed millions of the animals had been eating lead pellets after mistaking them for seeds, the release said.
About the Refuge
The 261-mile Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the longest river refuge in the continental U.S. The refuge begins at the confluence of the Chippewa River near Wabasha, Minnesota, and ends near Rock Island, Illinois. The refuge lies within four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois.
Go to www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river to learn more.