Not taking the lead — yet

Parks and Wildlife commission votes to keep lead-based bullets in Colorado

With a eye on the possible ban of lead-based hunting bullets, hunters and other shooters will be spending more time at the range, learning to use copper and other nontraditional bullets.

A lead bullet, left, and its resulting fragments are shown after it was fired into a special water-filled target. Similar fragments found in animal carcasses are blamed for poisoning California condors, eagles and other scavengers. A copper bullet fired into the same target shows no fragmentation.

Copper bullets show the desired four-petal expansion to help bring down a game animal but none of the fragmentation common with lead bullets.

The chorus of voices seeking a ban on lead-based ammunition fell flat in Colorado.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission voted Thursday not to move forward on a citizen-raised proposal to prohibit lead ammunition for big-game hunting in Colorado.

The commission killed the petition after citing a “lack of credible scientific evidence” as to the long-term impacts of spent lead to wildlife, along with a strong lack of support from the agency itself and concern about potential impacts to hunter participation.

A study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation said banning lead bullets could raise ammo prices “on average, up to 190 percent more” than the lowest-priced traditional lead bullets.

This would “decrease the ability for citizens to participate in recreational activities,” the NSSF said.

But, like the controversy over, and eventual 1991 ban of, lead shot for waterfowl hunters, the issue of getting the lead out of hunting ammo isn’t simple, nor is it going away.

The arguments for and against banning lead-based bullets are as many as the people voicing them.

The pro-ban forces gained an advantage in 2013 when California, under siege from various factors including the anti-hunting Humane Society of the U.S., banned the use of lead ammunition for all hunting purposes.

“Lead poses a danger to wildlife. This danger has been known for a long time,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said.

Studies by the Peregrine Fund, California state researchers and others say condors were exposed to lead poisoning by eating bullet fragments when scavenging dead animals shot by hunters.

Despite those and other studies, the California ban “has proven ineffective,” wrote guest columnist Susan Recce in a story earlier this year in The (Portland, Oregon) Oregonian.

“Despite a 99 percent compliance rate by hunters, researchers now admit that ‘lead exposures continue,’ and lead levels in condor blood have not dropped,” Recce wrote. “Supporters of lead ammunition bans continue to ignore alternative sources of lead in the environment as the primary cause of lead poisoning.”

However, it must be noted Recce is director of conservation, wildlife and natural resources for the National Rifle Association, a group traditionally siding with gun owners.

In a story on the National Geographic website, David Bellinger, an environmental health researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts, said, “Lead’s a really bad actor, and we keep finding out that it’s worse than we thought. There’s no safe level.”

Bellinger was one of 30 scientists and public health experts signing a consensus statement in March 2013 in support of “reducing and eventually eliminating the introduction of lead into the environment from lead-based ammunition.”

No one questions the potential long-term effects of lead in the environment.

Lead-based paints have been banned since 1978, and in Grand Junction certain households are urged to run their water faucet for several minutes each morning, clearing the pipes of water that sat overnight in lead pipes or in contact with lead-based solders.

“There is no debate in the scientific community (about the) ingestion of lead-based ammunition being a harm to humans or wildlife,” toxicologist Myra Finkelstein said last year on the website ThinkProgress.

Currently, the leading alternative to lead bullets is a copper-slugged bullet.

The Army has been researching a more environment-friendly bullet at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey since 2010 and has announced plans to phase out lead bullets by 2018. A lead-free version of the 7.62-mm rounds fired from M-14 rifles was scheduled to be issued to troops this year.

“Let’s face it,” said Jerry Stehman of Jerry’s Outdoor Sports in Grand Junction, one of the area’s leading firearms and ammunition stores. “If they banned lead and we had to go to copper, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

“As long as it’s all based on facts, but I don’t think they have all the facts,” Stehman said. “This is strictly based on emotion.”


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