Legislator plans look at lead bullet restrictions

St. Paul – State Rep. Sandra Masin says there are a couple
reasons she’s being moved to introduce legislation this session
that could restrict or ban lead bullets – and other lead-based ammo
and/or fishing tackle.

Concerns about lead in venison and how it affects a food shelf
donation program is one reason; the other is the likelihood that
eagles are dying because of ingesting lead from deer gut piles
during the hunting season.

“I think there’s a clear tie with the number of eagles (dying)
during the hunting season,” the Eagan DFLer said this week. Masin
first had made her intentions known during an interview with
Minnesota Public Radio.

Masin called the venison donation program a “win-win,” hampered
by the discovery of lead fragments in the meat a year ago. Venison
was pulled from food shelves following the during the 2007 hunting
season. The program resumed with modifications this year.

Masin said legislation would be part of an overall look at
environmental hazards. The 2009 Minnesota legislative session began
Tuesday.

Would it include such things as bird shot (non-toxic already is
required for waterfowl hunting) and lead fishing tackle? That’s
possible, according to Masin.

“I don’t want to alarm people, but it seems to me, we might want
to be looking at something more comprehensive,” she said.

The reason, Masin said, is because when toxins such as lead “get
into the environment, they’re there for a long time. If we’re doing
this, we might want to look at the long-term.”

Masin acknowledged the issue likely would generate controversy,
as similar proposals have in the past – and that there are pros and
cons to such a proposal.

She said her son is a deer hunter who’s used copper bullets in
the past.

But a transition to copper bullets (or other non-toxics for bird
hunting) isn’t a simple proposition, says Mark Johnson, executive
director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. Further, he
says, legislation aimed at eliminating lead bullets is a “knee-jerk
reaction.”

It’s impractical that the same “zero tolerance” rules regarding
lead in supermarket beef pertain to hunter-harvested venison, he
said. He said it’s never been shown that lead from hunter-harvested
venison has posed health problems for the consumer.

When it comes to eagles (and other birds such as crows and blue
jays that eat deer gut piles), it’s probable some birds may be
poisoned by lead, but “it’s not a population problem.” If
individual cases of animal deaths were cause for response, there
would be concern about road salt and how it attracts – and
endangers – whitetails, he said.

Beyond those arguments, Johnson said there are other
considerations. First, a switch to all-copper bullets increases
expenses exorbitantly, he said.

“It’s going to drive people away from hunting,” he said. And
that would mean lost revenue – for the DNR, as well as for the
economies of localities where people hunt.

Should a lead bullet ban be proposed in the state Legislature,
“we’ll be there to testify against it,” Johnson said.

Discussions of lead use aren’t new, said Dennis Simon,
DNR_Wildlife chief. The lead bullet aspect might be new,
however.

Lead mostly has been discussed in the realm of “fine” shot, or
bird shot. Lead is illegal for waterfowlers. And the DNR has made
it illegal on managed dove fields in some wildlife management
areas. That’s because, Simon said, there’s scientific evidence that
collections of lead shot in such areas might have an effect on the
dove population – something that was shown via research in another
state.

When a population effect isn’t a risk, Simon said the department
has left it to individual hunters to decide about use of lead
ammunition, and consumption of game harvested with lead loads.

“We look at the impacts on a population, not on individual
animals,” he said.

Simon said the state’s raptor center has reported a spike in the
number of eagles suffering from lead poisoning during the gun deer
season, and calls it a “reasonable connection.”

Still, “we cannot make policy based on individual birds,” he
said.

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