Are Hunters Inadvertently Harming, Or Even Killing This American Symbol of Freedom?
The vast majority of hunters I've ever known were conscientious, nature loving, and rule-abiding. They know what they can hunt - where, when and how - and whether they're hunting for sport or food, or both, they never wish to see an animal suffer and don't want to negatively impact wildlife as a whole.
However, some alarming data recently released will make many hunters reconsider the ammunition they're loading into their firearms.
The bald eagle's symbolism as one of our many symbols of America and American Freedom dates back nearly 250 years (1782) when it was named the country's national bird. Since 1940, it is has been expressly prohibited to hunt, sell, possessor, or even offer to hunt, sell or possess a bald eagle, dead or alive. That includes a single feathers, nest and eggs.
In spite of that, bald eagles face a unsuspecting predator: Lead bullets.
It's not that hunters or anyone else is trying to shoot them down, rather eagles and other birds are getting poisoned by feeding on 'gut piles' from deer carcasses left behind by hunters using lead ammunition. Bullets break apart and disperse throughout the animal's body, including the organs left behind, experts say.
A study recently released found nearly half (47%) of all bald eagles in the United States have chronic lead exposure. A piece of lead as small as a pinhead is enough to poison and kill a bald eagle, wildlife biologists say - comparing it to the threat the species faced nearly a half-century ago from pesticide DDT.
The researchers examined the blood, bone, liver, and feathers of more than 1,200 eagles across 38 US states. Of that sample, 47 percent of bald eagles and 46 percent of golden eagles had signs of chronic lead poisoning. Birds with chronic or repeated exposure to lead can develop lesions, weakness while flying, or convulsions and paralysis.
The Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur is aware of this issue and has seen lead poisoning claim the life of two bald eagles in the past month, despite efforts to save and treat them.
Jacques Nuzzo, a program director at the Raptor Center, described the bald eagle's seizures and partial paralysis to the Chicago Tribune this week:
“It gets more frustrating every time I see one (of these cases). It’s really awful,” said Nuzzo, who treated the lead-poisoned eagle March 8, just two days after another eagle with lead poisoning died on its way to the same raptor center.
“This is a problem that has been going on for over 80 years, and it’s a little mind-blowing that nothing has really, majorly, been done about it,” Nuzzo said.
Wildlife experts also say lead equipment used for fishing like lures or weights, contribute to this problem as well.
California is the only state to have prohibited use of lead ammunition for hunting. In New York, there is a bill being put forward (A5278) that put a ban in place on state owned property:
Prohibits the use of lead ammunition in the taking of wildlife on wildlife management areas, state forests, forest preserves, state parks or any other state-owned land that is open for hunting and on land contributing surface water to the New York city water supply.
As of this posting, the legislation was not scheduled to be voted on in either the Senator or Assembly.