What seemed to be a fairly innocuous announcement, that the National Park Service was banning lead ammunition and fishing gear throughout the National Park System, has drawn the ire of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The announcement Tuesday by the Park Service will have relatively little impact on hunters, as most national park units ban hunting. But that didn't stop the hunting group from quickly criticizing the decision.
"The National Park Service's decision is arbitrary, over-reactive and not based on science," Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, said Wednesday. "Studies show that traditional ammunition does not pose a health risk to humans, or wildlife populations as a whole."
In Washington, the Park Service's acting director, Dan Wenk, said the desire to reduce lead in national park environments led to the ban.
“Our goal is to eliminate the use of lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle in parks by the end of 2010,” said Mr. Wenk. “We want to take a leadership role in removing lead from the environment.”
According to a Park Service release, "the new lead reduction efforts also include changes in NPS activities, such as culling operations or the dispatching of wounded or sick animals. Rangers and resource managers will use non-lead ammunition to prevent environmental contamination as well as lead poisoning of scavenger species who may eventually feed upon the carcass. Non-toxic substitutes for lead made in the United States are now widely available including tungsten, copper, and steel."
Mr. Wenk also said the agency would develop educational materials to increase awareness about the consequences of lead exposure and the benefits of using lead-free ammunition and fishing tackle.
Lead is an environmental contaminant affecting many areas of the world, including the national parks, the acting director said. Lead already is banned in gasoline, children’s toys, and paint because of its effects on human health. In the United States, there is an accelerating trend to expand efforts to reduce lead contamination associated with firearms and hunting, he added.
California and Arizona have recently implemented mandatory and voluntary bans, respectively, on lead ammunition to facilitate California condor recovery. And Yellowstone National Park has had restrictions on lead fishing tackle for years to protect native species and their habitats.
Back at the shooting sports foundation, officials questioned whether the Park Service had made its decision to ban lead blindly, saying the agency "appears to have made its decision without requesting input from wildlife management and conservation groups, or ammunition manufacturers."
"There is no evidence of traditional ammunition harming humans or wildlife populations that would warrant this kind of drastic policy change," said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel.
The shooting organization added that traditional lead ammunition is "best suited" for dispatching wounded or sick animals or for culling operations. Lead ammunition costs less than the alternatives, the group said, and hunters are more familiar with its performance.
"Hunters also are agreeable to taking voluntary measures, such as burying entrails after field dressing game, to prevent scavengers from ingesting lead fragments," the group's editorial said.
Furthermore, the group said that:
Ammunition containing lead components has been the choice of hunters for well over 100 years, during which time wildlife populations in America have surged. While lead ingestion appears to occur in a small number of individual animals, overall populations are unaffected. Also, there has never been a documented case of lead poisoning among humans who have eaten game taken with traditional ammunition, and a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on North Dakota hunters who consumed game confirmed that there was no reason for concern over eating game taken with traditional ammunition.
Unfortunately, the park service's decision to ban traditional ammunition adds to the misinformation being circulated by anti-hunting groups to promote fear among wildlife managers and hunters about traditional ammunition. The park service's news release
makes erroneous comparisons between organic lead found in gasoline and the metallic lead used in ammunition. Banning lead in gasoline and paint was related to public health concerns because of the widespread nature of these substances and ingestion of paint chips by young children. These issues are not associated with lead in ammunition.
But at the Park Service, Acting-Director Wenks said the ban will benefit wildlife, humans, and the environment without harming hunters.
“The reduction and eventual removal of lead on Park Service lands will benefit humans, wildlife, and ecosystems inside and outside park boundaries and continue our legacy of resource stewardship,” he said.