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The debate over use of lead in outdoors products continues

The use of lead has been controversial for years. It has been proven to cause all kinds of health issues in humans and animals. It has been removed from our gasoline, taken out of paint and it is no longer in solder used to hold together copper water lines.

This issue of using lead has also been debated, and even argued, in the use of outdoor products. Lead is used in bullets, shot shells, and in numerous fishing lures and tackle. The unique properties of lead make it ideal to be formed, melted, and poured. Its density is also highly desirable. A ¼-ounce steel sinker and a ¼-ounce lead sinker are very different in size. Steel is not nearly as dense of a metal.

Other metals that are similar in properties to lead cost much more. This financial discrepancy causes consumers to walk right past higher priced products and pick up the cheaper, lead-based ones.

One of the last executive orders by the Obama administration was to ban the use of lead shot and lead sinkers on all federal lands. Dan Ashe, the former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the announcement on his last full day in office.

“Exposure to lead ammunition and fishing tackle has resulted in harmful effects to fish and wildlife species. According the the U.S. Geological Survey, lead poisoning is a toxicosis caused by the absorption of hazardous levels of lead in body tissues.”

Naturally, manufacturers of outdoor products heralded the action as political and not based on science. Basically, what I found out in my research is that companies understand that lead can cause issues, but they question how widespread those issues are.

In 1991, restrictions were put in place to eliminate lead shot used for hunting waterfowl. The law went into place because of diminishing waterfowl populations. The ducks that were most at-risk involved diving ducks, with puddlers also showing some lead poisoning characteristics.

If you are interested in learning more you can Google search a report from The Wildlife Society. Look for a title called Sources and Implications of Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle on Natural Resources.

President Trump’s new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, overturned Obama’s executive order just this month. Zinke said, “After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation, or coordination with affected stakeholders.”

In other words, the outdoor industry was not a part of the discussion.

Naturally, the real heart of the debate comes down to dollars versus impact on wildlife. How do I feel about this? I think that an all-out ban on lead is inevitable.

Yes, the cost to the consumer will be impacted. As outdoorsmen, we made it through the ban on lead in our waterfowl ammo. I think we will make it through any other changes in the hunting and fishing industry as well.

My hope is that these decisions are based on unbiased scientific research and not lobbyists for either side. As an avid angler and hunter, I want our wild animals to be there for future generations. 

The debate is growing as a larger number of birds that scavenge are coming up as suffering from lead poisoning. According to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, 21-25 percent of the birds brought in during the last 25 years have were found to have toxic levels of lead in their bloodstream. This same report states that in Iowa from 2005-06 there were 25 eagles brought in because of sickness or injury. 13 of those birds also showed signs of lead poisoning.

This debate is not over and it will not go away. Time will tell. Until then, the next time I buy some ammo, I think I will grab a box of non-toxic shot. 

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