If you follow me as a writer, you probably know that I also write about firearms. As a safety instructor, I end up covering a wide range of topics, from rights to responsibilities to equipment to just entertainment. Whatever your position on firearms, I think most here would agree that environmental protection is very important, and that there are important environmental issues in hunting and shooting. And, as in most other areas of modern life, there are clean technologies that can reduce or eliminate environmental damage.
Recent announcements by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announcing the opening of some hunting management shelters are welcome among hunters, but there is a catch: lead ammunition and accessories will not be allowed to people licensed to hunt and fish in these shelters.
Before we move on to what the USFWS suggests, let’s talk a little bit about why people use lead for hunting and fishing.
If you look at the first few minutes of the video above, you’ll see that modern firearms and reciprocating engines (with combustion) aren’t that different. The fuel burns, which creates pressure, which creates a pushing force. In the case of a gas car, the piston can only be pushed that far before it returns for the next burning and pushing. In a firearm, the bullet acts like a piston, but is completely ejected from the machine.
One of the key challenges with precision firearms is to have enough weight and cross-sectional density to fly straight, transfer energy to the target, and do enough damage on impact. This requires that the bullet (or most of it) be made of dense materials. Lead is not so close to being the densest element on the atomic table, but there are problems with most dense metals. For example, mercury cannot retain its shape at room temperature, plutonium, iridium, uranium, platinum and gold are expensive (and some are radioactive), and tungsten (a common alternative) is also expensive.
Lead proved to be a double-edged sword. Lead is relatively thick, easily melted and poured into molds and is quite cheap. Thus, it has found wide use as a material for bullets in the last few hundred years. The possibility of easy shaping also led to it being useful for weight fishing, so it found wide use there as well. But, like lead-based paints and leaded gasoline, low costs and ease of processing do not mean that lead is not toxic. Just like in humans, swallowing or inhaling this substance is terrible for the development of young animals and the health of adult animals.
Hunting and fishing usually leave lead behind in two ways.
For hunting, shots that do not end up in the target leave lead in the environment, but generally in such small quantities that they have a negligible impact on the environment. But when you hunt with a lead bullet, the bullet itself and its parts end up in the intestines. Hunters tend to gut the animal in the field to reduce what they have to do and prevent bacteria from breaking down meat too quickly, leaving behind a “bunch of guts”. In general, guts are eaten by coyotes, vultures, condors and other animals.
When there is lead in these piles of intestines, it ends up in the animals that come to eat it. This has led to the decline of entire species, including the California condor. This led to a complete ban on hunting lead ammunition in California, as well as to a voluntary ammunition trade program in Arizona. In the latter case, hunters are offered lead-free ammunition in exchange for lead cartridges or given raffle tickets to pack and remove piles of lead-contaminated hoses from the hinterland. This voluntary program has reduced lead hose clusters by about 88%. These efforts have greatly helped the return of the Condor population, especially on the Kaibab Plateau and the Grand Canyon.
When it comes to fishing, the problem is much easier to explain. Anyone who has gone fishing knows that sometimes you lose your gear or you have to cut the rope after it gets stuck to the bottom. This leaves lead in the water, which is obviously bad. Lead accessories can also be swallowed directly by escaped fish or those caught and released.
Some readers are probably wondering why the national ban on lead bullets for hunting and lead was not introduced, and the problem is mainly about costs. Previous efforts to ban lead ammunition and accessories in public areas have met with accusations that the government is trying to reduce the cost of hunters and make outdoor sports inaccessible to poorer Americans. Lead-free ammunition prices are about $ 10 more per box of 20 bullets, or about 50 cents per bullet.
As we all know, gun owners are very sensitive to government rules and laws that apply to guns, and even that relatively small additional cost is fiercely opposed and usually quickly repealed by such rules whenever political winds shift.
The latest USFWS ban on lead ammunition
Although I know that some readers oppose hunting, you must understand that hunting is not done indiscriminately. Authorities for game and fish at the state and federal levels set limits on how many animals can be taken in a given year in order to have a healthy and sustainable population in a given area. This hunt was once practiced by animals such as jaguars and wolves, which have either become completely extinct or have lost a serious number in the United States since the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, hunters are replacing the role of predators in the ecosystem.
This is obviously not a perfect system, but we have one that could be improved.
For that reason, the service for fish and wild animals wants to open 19 shelters for wild animals, a total of about 54,000 additional hectares, for fishermen and hunters. Like any fishing and hunting, the number would be controlled, but the USFWS does not want anyone to use lead ammunition and accessories in these new areas at all.
Some people in the open are happy that the new areas will be open for hunting and fishing, but others think it is a slippery slope for additional bans on lead ammunition.
“Proposed Lead Ban for Refugees Opens Door for Lead and Anti-Lead Prohibition Stables Across Federal Land, Including National Forests, Land Management Bureau Land, National Reserves and Other Areas,” said Todd Adkins, vice president of government affairs for the Alliance’s sports affairs. , he said in a press release. “It provides a legal basis for radical animal rights groups and environmental groups to sue the federal government to extort additional lead bans. In fact, President Biden is handing out howitzers to shoot at the federal government until the use of lead in ammunition and hunting and fishing gear is banned everywhere. ”
This fear is not entirely unfounded, as environmental groups have sued the federal government over lead ammunition, but it is largely limited to new areas open to hunting, rather than the entire public land.
Cleantech could solve this impasse
This is an area where technology could prove to be the solution. To solve this impasse, we need lead-free ammunition that is competitive with traditional lead bullets with comparable performance. Although I have not seen this happen for hunting ammunition, there are cartridges for pistols with bullets made of a mixture of copper and polymer. Although not useful for hunting, it shows that lead can be replaced by other materials that can be shaped. But it will take work to deal with much higher speeds in hunting rifles.
It would be good for athletes, government agencies and environmental groups to come together for research in this area. If hunters and fishermen can get comparable alternatives, it would take away financial rights and gun rights from the ban on lead ammunition. With such an outcome, everyone could have won.
Featured image: waterfowl fly at dusk in the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Image by Tom Koerner / USFWS (public domain).
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