Conservation groups call for Minnesota to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle

Petition to DNR says the toxic substance kills millions of birds and other animals each year, acceptable alternatives exist, and it’s time to act.




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Trumpeter swans (St. Croix Boom Site)

Update 11/4/2019: The DNR has denied this request. Commissioner Sarah Strommen wrote, “Given the breadth of the proposed rules and the number of stakeholders potentially affected by the proposed rules, the Commissioner concludes that this proposal is one more appropriately addressed by the Minnesota legislature.”

A petition filed in September from numerous organizations is urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to prohibit the use of lead fishing tackle on waters where loons are known to nest, and ban lead ammunition statewide. The step would be a first move to protect people and wildlife from being poisoned by the toxic metal.

Lead fragments in birds, deer, and other game can poison humans who consume the meat. Lead fishing tackle has been blamed for killing numerous trumpeter swans on the St. Croix River over the past several years, and lead ammunition can kill bald eagles and other wildlife that eat deer remains after hunting season.

“It’s time to stop using this toxic substance for recreational activities because it threatens the health of people and wildlife,” said Deb Ryun, executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “There are good, affordable non-toxic alternatives available, and hunters and anglers should be able to quickly transition to those materials once we get lead off the shelves.”

Studies by the National Park Service of the feathers and blood of bald eagle chicks along upper Midwest parks, including the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, has shown lots of lead in the big birds.

The Humane Society estimates 10 million to 20 million animals die from lead poisoning each year. The DNR estimates that hunters deposited 178 tons of lead just on state lands during the 2017 small game hunting season. A study on five large Minnesota lakes estimated 2,205 pounds of lead fishing tackle items were lost on those five lakes in just one year.

The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota reports lead poisoning was the case in 138 of 650 sick eagles they treated between 1980 and 1996.

Lead shot has been prohibited for waterfowl hunting on federal wildlife refuges since 1991. Thirty-four states currently have additional restrictions on lead.

A similar proposal to prohibit lead in Minnesota was put forth last year, but was denied by then-Commissioner Tom Landwehr. This year’s petition only seeks to prohibit the use of lead fishing tackle on lakes where loons are known to nest, because the state bird has proven particularly susceptible to lead poisoning because of their diet and feeding habits. DNR data shows 14 percent of the dead loons that were found in the wild and studied had died of lead poisoning.

A mother swan tries to free a cygnet frozen to the St. Croix River ice in Hudson in 2015, after the young bird was poisoned by lead fishing tackle. The bird was rescued by volunteers but later died. (Photo by Margaret Smith, Trumpeter Swan Society)

The petition was filed by the Friends of Minnesota Scientific & Natural Areas on Sept. 2, giving the DNR a standard 60 days to respond. That means the agency should reply by tomorrow.

“Regulations requiring non-toxic ammunition and non-toxic fishing tackle are the only feasible and prudent options to remove lead and other toxic materials from important outdoor recreation activities,” the petition reads. “In this way, the hunting and fishing communities can be positive role models for present and future generations.”

Alternatives to lead fishing tackle include sinkers and jigs made from materials such as tin, bismuth, steel, and tungsten-nickel alloy, which can be found at many outdoor retailers and online.

Copper ammunition has been used for decades by many hunters. It is found to perform similarly to lead, and is not toxic to people or animals. Because of its widespread adoption, it is relatively easy to find in stores.


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Conservation groups call for Minnesota to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle