For generations, sportsmen have stood at the front of the conservation movement.
Take longtime conservation leader Donal O’Brien Jr., who passed away this fall. Donal served 25 years on the National Audubon Society’s board of directors, co-chaired the 1995 strategic planning process that created Audubon’s state offices, and raised millions of dollars for Audubon’s bird conservation initiatives—from saving waterfowl, shorebirds, and grassland birds to restoring the California condor and strengthening protections for Long Island Sound. In addition to being an ardent conservationist, Donal was an active sportsman and an avid duck hunter.
As a sportsman, he felt a responsibility for protecting the environment. Which is why he helped campaign to ban the use of lead ammunition in the main California condor range. He knew lead was bad for birds—and for the environment.
We’ve known for years that lead is toxic. We took it out of paint and gasoline used in cars more than four decades ago, when the damage it could cause to children became clear. Now it’s time to get the lead out of nature. Hunters and fishermen need to make sure the equipment they are carrying and leaving in our fields, forests, and streams is lead-free. That means buying and using non-lead ammunition for hunting and non-lead fishing tackle. Alternatives are widely available. There is no reason not to use them.
Lead in the environment threatens the California condor, the golden eagle, the common loon, and a number of other species. This is not a new problem. George Bird Grinnell, one of the founders of the early Audubon Society, wrote in 1894 about “the destruction of ducks, geese, and swans by lead-poisoning.” In 1894 there weren’t any other options. Now, however, there are.
This isn’t just about wildlife conservation; it’s about poison and public health. Studies have shown that the lead left in game animals can make its way to the dinner table. People who consume that meat are unknowingly exposing themselves to lead and all its dangers.
Attempts to legislate a ban on lead ammunition provoke outrage among certain groups, who see them as backdoor efforts to ban hunting. That is ridiculous. And it amounts to little more than fearmongering aimed at hunters and sportsmen.
Some claim there is not enough non-lead ammunition available and that what is available is too expensive. The truth is, non-lead ammunition is readily available, there are dozens of companies manufacturing and selling it, and when you compare premium lead to premium non-lead ammunition, the pricing is very similar. Yes, some bargain loads are cheaper, but what price are we willing to pay to keep poison out of the environment?
The case against lead ammunition is solid. And our decision to stop its use isn’t about tradition or convenience or cost—it’s about doing the right thing.