NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Need to Get the Lead Out

August 8, 2012

In 1991 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instituted a nationwide ban on the use of lead shot to hunt waterfowl due to studies that suggested ducks and geese often mistake the small pellets for food, resulting in lead poisoning. In June 2012, seven environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming that lead bullets are poisoning both wildlife and humans. The EPA is precluded from regulating or banning lead ammunition under an exemption to the definition of "chemical substance" in the Toxic Substances Control Act, says Alexis Hunter, an intern with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Research indicates that lead ammunition poses little or no harm to animals and humans. From an environmental perspective, banning or limiting lead ammunition would make hunting more expensive, resulting in fewer hunters, less funding for wildlife conservation and poorer wildlife management.

Many environmentalists claim that raptor populations -- such as hawks, eagles and falcons -- are harmed each year through ingestion of lead fragments in the carcasses of animals they scavenge.  

  • However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
  • In fact, according to an ongoing study by the Raptor Population Index, populations of bald eagles and golden eagles have increased over the past few decades.
  • With the exception of a few species, such as the California condor, the effect of lead ammunition on wildlife has proved to be negligible.

Ninety-five percent of ammunition made in the United States contains lead, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's leading trade association. Ammunition made with nonlead materials, such as copper, is often twice as expensive as lead ammunition. If the use of lead bullets or shot were banned or limited, hunters would face significantly increased costs -- a major factor in the decline of hunting over the past 20 years. This would result in a decrease in revenue for state and federal wildlife agencies that depend upon excise taxes on ammunition and the sale of licenses for funding and wildlife conservation.

In addition, with fewer hunters and less hunting, there would be poorer wildlife management, which could, arguably, worsen the overpopulation of such animals as deer and feral hogs -- both of which already cause millions of dollars of damage to farms, forests, suburbs and automobiles each year. Thus, banning lead ammunition would be contrary to sound wildlife management.

Source: Alexis Hunter, "No Need to Get the Lead Out," National Center for Policy Analysis, August 8, 2012.


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