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Des Moines editorial: “It’s time Iowa lets go of lead ammo”

January 12, 2012 at 05:19 PM

The Associated Press

It’s time Iowa lets go of lead ammo

It’s unclear why some Iowa lawmakers have such an affinity for lead.

Last year, the Iowa Natural Resources Commission banned the use of lead shot in hunting mourning doves. An Iowa legislative committee delayed implementation of the commission’s rule. If legislators do nothing this session, that ban would go into effect. But it appears they just can’t help themselves. Some plan to push the issue and vote on a bill that, if passed, would continue to allow dove hunters to use lead-based ammunition.

Lawmakers should allow the ban to stand. When hunters shoot at an animal, tiny pellets of lead in a shell are scattered everywhere. Other wildlife, including the bald eagle, come along, eat them, get sick and die. Hunters can use nontoxic ammunition, and many already do. But some lawmakers are insisting it’s OK to use the poisonous ammunition.

“There is just no reason to ban lead shot,” said Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines.

He insists “there is no scientific evidence” that lead hurts wildlife, and he says that studies saying otherwise are funded by anti-hunting groups. The senator said when the Natural Resources Commission decided to ban the toxic shot, it was trying to “suck up to anti-dove hunters.”

Greg Drees, a Natural Resources Commission member, said, “That is just absolutely wrong.” He provided numerous studies and referenced several more from state fish and game agencies around the nation, including Minnesota’s and Missouri’s, explaining the toxicity of lead and the negative impact on wildlife.

Many birds consume small gravel or grit to aid in digestion. They also end up consuming tiny lead shot pellets. “The ingestion of a single shot can be fatal,” according to a review by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Information distributed by the state of Montana reports lead shot kills an estimated 2 to 3 million birds each year. “Losses of this magnitude nearly equal the annual duck harvest in the Central Flyway.”

These are not the conclusions of anti-hunting, fringe groups.

“Sen. Dearden and others who are like-minded are living in the Dark Ages,” Drees said. “There is a reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the use of lead shot in all waterfowl hunting almost 25 years ago. Lead kills.”

There is no question lead is poisonous. It has been banned from paint and gasoline. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website “lead has adverse effects on nearly all organ systems in the body.”

In fact, in 2007 and 2008, Iowa lawmakers were so concerned about the toxicity of the substance that they required all children entering kindergarten to be tested for lead poisoning. In 2009, lawmakers imposed new lead regulations that gave the public health department the authority to certify renovators who work in facilities and homes occupied by children.

So why do lawmakers want to proactively ensure hunters can continue to spray this toxic substance all over Iowa forest and fields?

Because it’s more effective, Dearden contends. He equated using nontoxic shot with “throwing a Nerf ball at you as hard as I can,” whereas lead would be like throwing a baseball.

Drees disagrees.

“I’m a lifelong hunter,” he said. “Few people are in the field bird hunting more than I am each year, and I haven’t shot lead for more than 20 years. Nontoxic shot is faster, more efficient and in no way more expensive than lead.” If Dearden and other hunters would simply experiment with nontoxic shot, they would realize the truth, he said.

But trying to convince the lead-loving lawmakers to rethink their positions feels like trying to convince them the world is not flat.

“We have used lead for ammunition since the Europeans invaded,” said Dearden.

Science and medicine have come a long way since then. It’s time for Iowa lawmakers to recognize that reality.

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