Phillip Loughlin 
Member since Mar 19, 2015



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Re: “Get The Lead Out

I'm going to challenge a couple of the things I've read here, but first; I want to say that I'm glad that there is ongoing research to study the effects of lead on wildlife and the extent that those effects are having a real impact on the long term success of the species most impacted (e.g. raptors and scavenging birds). I am a firm believer in relying on science over emotion when it comes to questions of wildlife management and conservation.

It's pretty hard to question the fact that lead makes some birds sick. But the important question when it comes to legislating a ban on any product is whether or not the product's impact is significant enough to justify the impacts of the ban itself.

If we were to step back for a moment from the fact that this specific issue is about the politically and emotionally charged subject of guns and hunting, and look at it objectively, I wonder if there would be as much support for a ban. I can only speculate, but if you substituted something a little less controversial, like say, lawns, and put it under the same microscope, would it generate the same level of heat among everyone from politicians to special interest groups? The reality is that well-manicured lawns and the propagation of non-native plants across the country has done irrevocable ecological harm. And we all know that a well-manicured lawn is hardly a necessity for life, and in fact, is little more than an aesthetic luxury.

There are scores of other examples, of course, but my intent is not to deflect the conversation off the topic of lead ammunition. It's just to ask for perspective as to the actual extent of the "lead ammo problem." It's a miniscule issue, in the big picture, and I contend that the only reason it's getting this attention now is because it is being driven by agencies with anti-hunting biases against a social minority (hunters). The reality is that, despite the fact that there are around 13 million hunters in the U.S., almost all of whom are shooting lead ammunition, hawk and eagle populations are generally doing very well.

I disagree, by the way, with the contention that a lead ammo ban will significantly impact the number of hunters, or their financial contributions to local economies... at least in the long term. This same argument was used in the 1980s to counter the move to ban lead shot for waterfowl, and while there appeared to be a downturn in waterfowl hunters around the same period, the number of hunters rebounded with the populations of huntable birds (another topic, but the recovery of waterfowl had little to do with the lead shot ban).

I do feel like this is the place to address Mr. Stanton's comments in regards to the waterfowl regulations, and point out that the lead shot ban was carried on the back of the bald eagle, not on waterfowl. The ban proponents pointed out that the eagles, protected under the ESA, were being poisoned by lead shot in dead or dying waterfowl, and leveraged the ESA for a lawsuit against the USFWS. If not for this leverage, it's fair to suggest that we would still be debating lead shot for waterfowl. By the way, this is almost identical to the current scenario, where so much of the lead ban furor has come from a desire to protect the California condor.

Hunters, like any other passionate hobbyists, will find a way to pay for their hobby. We did it in the '80s, and we'll do it again if we have to.

But that's not to say that a lead ban won't put a significant hardship on hunters.

For those of you who know nothing about guns or ammunition, much less ballistic performance and the vagaries of modern firearms, it is easy to look at the Cabela's catalog and think that lead free options abound for the modern hunter. The reality is that, just because something is listed, doesn't mean it's readily available. Ammunition supplies across the board have been inconsistent, and the industry is struggling to keep up with current demand for the ammunition they already produce. It might be akin to telling Ford that they have to stop building pickup trucks and start turning out motorcycles.

The other consideration that non-hunters don't understand is that there is a dizzying array of calibers and chamberings for modern (and antique) firearms. When the lead shot ban was implemented, shotshell manufacturers really had a small handful of shot sizes and chamberings to adapt. With shotguns, there are six gauges in use in the U.S. (10, 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410). Of those, the vast majority of waterfowl hunters are using three (10, 12, and 20). Consider that, when it comes to hunting rifles, there are more than six variations on the.30 caliber alone... and there are hunting calibers from .17 to .50. So while manufacturers like Barnes have "designed" bullets for a wide range of calibers, they are barely scratching the surface. And because a bullet has been designed, that doesn't mean it's being manufactured... much less produced in a finished cartridge for commercial distribution.

I could go on with this line of discussion (because it goes much, much deeper), but the point is that the claim that "lead free alternatives are readily available" is a lie. It's not an error. It is an intentionally misleading statement designed to confuse the folks who don't know any better. And now it's being perpetuated by people who, while they may mean well, simply don't know what they're talking about.

The price comparison with lead ammo vs. lead free is another area where the truth is being abused. It is true that, if you compare lead-free ammunition prices against the super-premium lead ammunition, the cost of lead-free is only marginally higher. But the bulk of lead ammunition sold to hunters across the country is not super-premium. It's the mid-range or "budget" stuff, and when you check those prices, lead free ammo comes in as much as 150% higher... or more, depending on the caliber (common calibers are, of course, cheaper than less common). That is significant, especially to hunters of modest means.

But like I said, hunters will adjust. Maybe there'll be some attrition. Given the choice between hunting in a place that requires lead-free ammo and hunting in a place that allows you to use the ammo you've always used and trusted, you're likely to choose the latter... so localized revenues may dip as hunters choose to go elsewhere. But overall and over time, I doubt it will be catastrophic as some folks have argued.

It comes back to the question though, is a lead ammo ban necessary? Is it justified? Will it return results commensurate with the cost (economic and political) of implementation and enforcement?

I say it is neither necessary nor justified, and I point out the success in Arizona and Utah of voluntary measures to mitigate the impacts of lead ammo in sensitive areas ("condor zones") in those states. Rather than enable a California-style, propaganda-laden, political battle, these states chose to go the route of education and incentives... and it is working very well.

This is the model that other states should be looking at. Educate the sportsmen with unbiased information about both the unintended impacts of lead ammunition, and about the viability of alternatives. Also, educate them on other methods of mitigation, such as removal or burial of offal and carcasses. There's nothing wrong with offering incentives as well, such as coupons for free ammunition, or even contests for hunters who collect and turn in their carcasses and offal at a check station. It has worked both to increase adoption of lead free ammo, and to reduce the impact on the condors and other scavenger birds in the area.

Compare this to the results of California's legislated ban, which has resulted in a widened gulf of distrust between sportsmen and environmentalists, growing backlash against the state's politicians, and absolutely zero results in reducing the levels of lead in the condors. Because the law is basically unenforceable, there's no real way of knowing how many people are still using lead ammo on private property or in the back country. And because the issue has become so heavily politicized, efforts to educate and convert hunters are hindered by distrust.

The final question is, what is the real goal of this effort? If it is to encourage hunters to become better stewards of the environment, and to realize the benefits of that behavior, a lead ban is not the answer.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Phillip Loughlin on 03/19/2015 at 10:01 AM

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