First Shot In Lead Battle Fired
The old sales saw says "if someone tells you it's not about the money, it's about the money." With that in mind, I sat in on a teleconference yesterday with the American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity to learn more about a formal petition filed yesterday with the Environmental Protection Agency requesting a ban on the use of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.
"Today's petition is the most significant move in two decades," was the opening comment from Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's long past time to do something about this deadly-and preventable- epidemic of lead poisoning in the wild. We've taken lead out of gasoline, paint, water pipes and other places dangerous to people. Now it's time to get the lead out of hunting and fishing sports to save wildlife for needless poisoning."
As expected, the shooting industry has fired back with a vengeance.
"There simply is no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having an adverse impact on wildlife populations that would require restricting or banning use of traditional ammunition beyond current limitations, such as the scientifically based restriction on waterfowl hunting." said NSSF President Steve Sanetti."
During the conference, spokespersons from both organizations were quick to say that they weren't anti-hunting or fishing, but were moving to save the estimated 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals that die each year from lead poisoning in the United States.
That number, incidentally, is estimated to include animals scavenging on carcasses and "contaminated with lead bullet fragments" and any animal that might pick up and eat spent lead pellets or lost fishing weights.
"The science on this issue is massive in breadth and unimpeachable in its integrity," said American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick, offering "hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing continued lead poisoning of large numbers of birds and other animals."
Those 473 studies, he says, make the EPA petition "a prudent step to safeguard wildlife and reduce unacceptable human health risks."
So, the American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and a California hunters' group Project Gutpile are asking for the ban under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates dangerous chemicals in the United States.
Only the ABC and CBD participated in the teleconference.
In one respect, they're accurate in their assertion that their petition isn't just about banning hunting or fishing. While it cites the 3,000 tons of lead "shot into the environment by hunting every year" it also claims "80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and sinkers."
So, the petition seeks a ban on lead in those situations as well.
Since "viable alternatives" to lead in either bullets or fishing sinkers exist, they say it's not an anti-hunting or fishing petition. They were a little less reluctant to respond to questions regarding the fact their petition, if granted, would drive costs significantly higher for hunters, shooters and anglers.
In contrast, the NSSF says a ban would have a negative impact on hunting, shooting and fishing -and wildlife conservation. The eleven percent federal excise tax manufacturers pay on ammunition is a primary source of funding of wildlife conservation. In fact, the NSSF asserts, that funding is the "financial backbone of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation."
"Needlessly restricting or banning traditional ammunition absent sound science will hurt wildlife conservation efforts as fewer hunters take to the field," said NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane.
"Hunters and their ammunition have done more for wildlife than the CBD ever will. And the CBD's scientifically baseless petition and endless lawsuits against state and federal wildlife managers certainly do not serve the wildlife that the organization claims to protect."
One study cited by the two organizations found that "up to 87 percent of cooked game killed by lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead." In fact, they said, "state health agencies had to recall venison donated to fed the hungry because of lead contamination from lead bullet fragments."
That isn't necessarily the case.
The study they cited was later discredited as having been both non-scientific in its methodology and "hopelessly biased" by its author. The recall of venison in Minnesota shelter programs was later found to be an unwarranted concern, although the state's Health, Agriculture and Natural Resources departments did create guidelines regarding processing of deer harvested using lead bullets.
Officials later admitted the whole issue was overblown.
Despite the seemingly impeachable "evidence" offered, it would be unwise to consider the petition as lacking merit.
As demonstrated in a press conference executed only hours after the release announcing their petition, these groups are neither naive nor reluctant to have the entire matter argued in public.
In fact, appear to believe they can get around the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency has no jurisdiction over ammunition, despite the Toxic Substances Control Act's regulating dangerous chemicals in the United States.
Because ammunition is subject to a federal excise tax, ammunition is exempt from the Toxic Substances Control Act. It falls under other guidelines.
Guidelines the CBD and ABC believe can be circumvented.
"Viable alternatives to lead as an ammunition compoent exist today," the Center for Biological Diversity's Jeff Miller told me, "because those alternatives exist, we're asking that the components of ammunition be covered by the Toxic Substances Control Act."
That approach would, at least theoretically, allow the EPA to exert control over ammunition -without endangering the revenues produced from the federal excise tax collected from ammunition manufacturers.
And what of the longstanding argument that forcing non-traditional ammunition on hunters and shooters would cause many to stop pursuing both?
"We heard that argument when California banned lead because of concerns over the California condor," was the response, "it never materialized- at least not in any number large enough to measure."
That may be true, but this latest petition calls for a ban on lead based ammunition in all applications-meaning recreational shooters would also be forced to use alternative ammunition. It would also ban the use of the estimated hundreds of millions of rounds of surplus ammunition that exist across the country.
Replacing that ammunition would certainly drive up costs for shooting in any form.
It's no secret that the alternatives to lead used in the fishing tackle business has resulted in significant cost increases, and the processes for manufacturing fishing weights are significantly simpler than the complicated processes involved in manufacturing non-lead ammunition.
The costs of retooling and meeting demand for lead-free ammunition would, in fact, be passed on to consumers in the form of higher ammunition costs. In today's uncertain economic climate, that would almost certainly guarantee that many shooters and hunters facing already tight budgets could be priced out of hunting.
Is this the first shot in what looks to be another protracted war?
The Environmental Protection Agency has, by statute, 90 days after the petition's filing to either grant or deny that petition.
If the EPA Administrator grants the petition, "appropriate proceedings" would commence immediately.
If the petition is denied, the Administrator would be required to publish the reasons for the denial in the Federal Register.
We'll keep you posted.
Editor's Note: You can read the entire petition by clicking this link