St. Paul — The Minnesota DNR issued an order in late June that will require hunters to use nontoxic, lead-free ammunition when hunting on 56 state scientific and natural areas where hunting is allowed.
The new order was signed June 27 by DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, a move that stopped short of banning lead fishing tackle on SNAs and prohibiting lead ammunition at state parks for special hunts, which was sought by a coalition of conservation groups headed by Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.
“It’s a great first step, but only a first step,” said Tom Casey, president of the Friends group, which has sent petitions to the DNR over a period of years, asking for the lead-free changes.
Casey, an attorney from Mound, said the Friends of Minnesota SNAs will continue advocating with the DNR and the state Legislature to get a “wider ban” on lead ammunition and fishing tackle.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted with the DNR, but we believe the politics is there now,” Casey said. “We also believe the science is settled on the harmful effects of lead in the environment and how it can impact the health of humans and wildlife.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Director Ann Pierce said Monday that lead use for special hunts at state parks is being addressed through the expedited emergency rule process. “This should be completed in the next week or so,” Pierce wrote in an email to Outdoor News.
Federal Ammunition on Monday criticized the commissioner’s order in a letter to Strommen dated July 10: “Minnesota DNR policy should focus on maintaining and growing hunting opportunities for all, not catering to the opinions of the extremes. This decision was made in isolation – no alternative viewpoints or stakeholder perspectives considered. An issue as important as this should have full transparency as well as stakeholder input and should be determined through the legislative process and not via agency directives.”
The letter, which you can read in full here, said the action “builds barriers to resident and nonresident enjoyment of our hunting heritage and the outdoors.”
The letter concludes with a request from Federal: “We respectfully request that this rule be withdrawn and request a meeting with you, your staff, and the governor. This order did not include a legislative process, public comment period, or industry dialogue, and the only certain result is harming hunters, Minnesota’s workforce, and the future of wildlife management funding in Minnesota.”
According to Casey, Strommen’s order was published in the state registry Monday and should go into effect this year, including being incorporated into the Minnesota Hunting & Trapping Regulations handbook, which is set for release in early August.
The DNR manages roughly 160 SNAs across the state, totaling 192,000 acres. Strommen’s order indicates that SNAs “are exceptional places where native plants and animals flourish; where rare species are protected; and where we can know, and study, Minnesota’s fascinating natural features.”
Using lead ammunition in SNAs undermines the value and purpose of SNAs, according to the order. “The commissioner is required to manage SNAs in a manner consistent with the purpose of the SNA designation …,” Strommen’s order states. “Ammunition containing lead is toxic to wildlife and humans and is not naturally occurring within SNAs.”
Casey and other conservationists, including Carrol Henderson, retired Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor, said he worries that various bird species – from raptors to waterfowl – continue to be poisoned after feeding on whitetail gut piles left behind by deer hunters who use lead ammunition.
In addition, they say research has shown how birds – including loon, eagles, swans, and others – are poisoned by ingesting lead fishing tackle found in lakes and other state water bodies.
The 56 SNAs listed in Strommen’s order are scattered across the state. The order exempts 18 peatland SNAs where hunting is allowed: “Because the management of these lands is set by statute, the commissioner has no legal authority to modify the use of these lands …,” according to Strommen’s order.
Casey’s Friends group has asked the DNR for a “statewide ban” on lead ammunition and fishing tackle since 2018. In the proposed master plans for two state wildlife management areas – Whitewater and Red Lake – the group has asked the DNR to include language, according to Casey, “to get the lead out.” Casey said he believes Strommen’s order on the 56 SNAs “is one step closer” to Minnesota hunters and anglers transitioning to lead-free alternatives.
“We believe that transitioning to nontoxic ammunition and tackle casts hunters and anglers in a very positive of light … as conservationists, not polluters,” said Casey, adding that his group fully supports hunting and fishing, as do the 22 other conservation groups who signed the DNR petition. “We said that in the petition, that we support the state’s constitutional amendment (right to hunt and fish),” Casey said.
According to the DNR’s website, the agency encourages hunters to consider using nontoxic alternatives for all their hunting. The agency says “effective nontoxic ammunition is widely available and costs about as much as a box of premium lead.”
Using nontoxic shot also eliminates the potential risk of ingesting lead in game “consumed by hunters and their families.” That’s particularly true in venison, according to a Minnesota DNR study.
In 1991, due to waterfowl population health concerns, the federal government officially banned the use of lead shot nationwide in waterfowl hunting. The mandate, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, required hunters use nontoxic shot. In Minnesota, nontoxic shot has been required for waterfowl hunting since 1986.