Understanding the Biological, Social, and Economic Aspects of Lead Ammunition on Wildlife Populations and Wildlife Management.


Organizers: John McDonald, Westfield State University; Thomas Decker, USFWS

Supported by:
Hunting, Trapping, and Conservation Working Group; Wildlife Damage Management Working Group; Wildlife Disease Working Group; Wildlife Toxicology Working Group

The toxic effects of lead in the environment are well known and in recent decades wildlife scientists have developed an understanding of those effects on a variety of wildlife species and their habitats.  However, lead shot and bullets remain the most commonly manufactured forms of ammunition and the most commonly used ammunition by hunters where it is unrestricted.  Many factors contribute to the slow adoption of non-lead ammunition by hunters, including cost of factory ammunition, low availability of non-lead ammunition (especially for .22 rimfire ammunition), perceptions of how non-lead ammunition performs relative to lead, fear of damage to firearms, anti-regulatory attitudes, and others.  Some hunters have voluntarily adopted non-lead ammunition for a variety of reasons, including a desire to not consume lead or share potentially lead contaminated meat.  The Wildlife Society has adopted a position statement that envisions the near total replacement of lead-based ammunition with non-lead alternatives in the future, but recognizes that it will take a collaborative approach among the many interested stakeholders and a phased regulatory approach.  This position statement is due to expire and potentially be revised in 2022 and likely will generate a vigorous debate over what revisions are appropriate and the biological and sociological evidence for any proposed revisions.  This symposium will pull together current available information on population level effects of lead ammunition on wildlife species as well as perspectives on the factors affecting adoption of non-lead ammunition by hunters, industry, and wildlife agencies. 

Overview of the Lead Ammunition Issue and Development of Non-Toxic Alternatives
Robert (Bob) Byrne
Overview of the lead ammunition issue and development of non-toxic alternatives.  Bob Byrne, Bob Byrne Consulting, Amissville, VA. In the United States, regulations to restrict the use of lead in ammunition have evolved at both the federal and state-level since lead shot was banned for hunting waterfowl nation-wide by federal regulation in 1991. Prior to 1991, most of the effort and discussions were focused on reducing lead exposure from, and finding alternatives for, shotgun ammunition i.e., ammunition firing multiple small projectiles from one shell. This type of ammunition is often used for hunting small game animals and birds.  Since then, much, but not all, of the focus has shifted to reducing lead exposure from, and finding alternatives for, rifle ammunition i.e., ammunition firing a single projectile. Rifle ammunition is often, but not exclusively, used for hunting large game. This presentation will review the history of regulating lead in hunting ammunition in the US, and discuss some of the social, scientific, economic, and technological issues regarding switching from lead to non-lead alternatives. 
Firearms Ammunition Manufacturing, Sales and Availability- Implications for Conservation
Thomas Decker, Mark Oliva
The manufacturing and sale of ammunition is a several hundred-year-old industry.  Ammunition is produced in over 70 calibers and gauges for use in rifles, pistols, and shotguns.  Production of ammunition is for a wide range of uses such as, military and law enforcement, personal defense, target shooting, and hunting. The majority of ammunition produced in the U.S. involves lead projectiles, most of which are derived from recycled car batteries; non-lead ammunition is derived new minerals resulting from mining activity.  Since 1937, a federal manufacturer’s excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition has been a source of conservation and restoration funding for state fish and wildlife agencies.  This funding source has provided billions of dollars for the conservation and restoration of the nation’s wildlife, including the acquisition and management of millions of acres of public lands.  The predominant use of manufactured ammunition by the public is for target shooting.  Consumer choices of ammunition types in the marketplace are very diverse across ammunition types, price points, and availability.  Currently, though manufacturing and production of ammunition is at historically high levels, all types of retail ammunition (lead and non-lead) are falling short of consumer demands. 
Demonstrations from the Shooting Range, Videos of Bullet Performance
Thomas Decker
Familiarity with lead ammunition and confidence in how it will perform in hunting situations can be important factors slowing hunter adoption of non-lead ammunition.  Shooting range demonstrations have been successful field events for allowing people to understand and experience the functionality and performance of various types and calibers of ammunition and how they change shape upon hitting wild game in hunting situations.  With the use of ballistic jells and water containers and x-rays we will show short video clips that visually demonstrate the amount of fragmentation and bullet mass loss from lead and non-lead ammunition types of various calibers of rifles and shotguns.  This is meant to be a simple and straightforward demonstration in lieu of a hands-on workshop at a shooting range.  Our intent is provide unbiased comparisons of commonly used rifle calibers, using both lead and non-lead bullet types so viewers can assess performance and make informed decisions on future ammunition purchases.
An Outdoor Writer’s View on How Hunting-Media Consumers Perceive the Lead-Bullet Issue.
Patrick Durkin
The Case for Copper: An outdoor writer’s view on how hunting-media consumers perceive the lead-bullet issue American deer hunters have been buying and shooting copper and other non-lead alternatives since at least 1986, when Barnes Bullets LLC first sold its solid-copper X-Bullet for centerfire rifles. Remington Arms introduced its Copper Solid slugs for shotguns during the early 1990s, and Barnes introduced the Expander MZ for muzzleloading rifles in 1994, thus making copper bullets available for all three standard big-game firearms. By the early 2000s, solid-copper bullets had evolved into reliable, hard-hitting ammunition. Even though solid-copper bullets enjoy consistently good performance reviews, many hunters stick with traditional lead-core/copper jacketed bullets, which are generally less expensive. In addition, some hunters viewed copper bullets suspiciously after researchers documented raptors suffering from lead poisoning after scavenging gut piles from big-game animals killed with lead-core bullets. As state agencies considered banning lead-based bullets, and California enacted that ban, many hunters considered it a conspiracy by outsiders and/or anti-hunters. Some hunters labeled copper projectiles as “hippy bullets” and refused to shoot them. In recent years, however, more hunters are turning or returning to copper. I’m interviewing hunters in 2021 to get their perspectives on copper ammo, hear why or why not they’re choosing copper, and learn which species and hunting calibers they use when shooting copper bullets.
Non-Lead Ammunition for Aerial Management of Feral Swine: Requirements, Availability and the Development of Specifications for Contracting
Mike Bodenchuck
ABSTRACT: Aerial removal of feral swine is a cost-effective method where habitat is open and access to properties allows a large enough area to justify the use of helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS) uses the method extensively and in 2020 removed 38,422 feral swine through aerial shooting. WS is committed to using non-lead ammunition for aerial feral swine operations. Commercial sources for suitable ammunition are limited and many products are not suitable. Government procurement processes require specific standards, which had to be developed to provide humane, efficient ammunition. This paper presents the evolution of specific ammunition criterion, testing requirements and procurement issues for this specific use.
Efforts to Ban Lean Ammunition in Europe: A Comparison between Europe and U.S.
Craig Miller, Matthew Ellis
The human health impacts of lead have been known for millennia but the environmental impacts of lead ammunition have only received attention during the past 100 years. To a large extent the United States provided leadership in identifying and researching these effects and then spearheading campaigns to transition away from lead shot for waterfowl hunting. However, the appetite for further transition has largely stalled in the US except for apparently limited action linked to charismatic species and sites. Europe, on the other hand, though generally rather late to the table with regards to lead shot and waterfowl hunting, is now pushing ahead with several initiatives which are likely to see significant, if not total, restrictions on the use of all lead ammunition (shot and bullets) within five to ten years. We will discuss the policy drivers behind these moves, summarise the key attitudes and perceived constraints to transition, and provide (cautious) timetables for future changes. Our discussion will include comparisons between efforts in the U.S. and those in Europe.
How Demonstrations Change Minds, the Way to Voluntary Switching by Hunters
Brian Hiller, Steve Windels, Anthony Hewitt
MNTWS has been very actively engaged in the education, promotion, and demonstration of using non-toxic ammunition for deer hunting. Prior to the pandemic we conduct between four and eight demonstrations to either targeted groups, such as special hunt participants, or the general public in order to increase the number of deer hunters in MN who voluntarily choose to use non-toxic ammunition for hunting. We will present suggestions for themes educators can focus on during demonstrations, as well as follow up conversations to encourage hunters to switch to non-toxic ammunition.
Using Experience and Social Science Theory to Enhance Voluntary Nonlead Use
John Schulz, Sonja Wilhelm Stanis
Neoliberal paradigms have set voluntary programs as the default policy option for many emerging health and conservation related issues; however, multiple examples have provided suboptimal outcomes.  In similar fashion, voluntary nonlead programs have become the default policy for addressing lead poisoning in wildlife, but an explicit and strategic plan for and effective communication program is lacking.  We propose that the diffusion of innovation theory provides a useful framework for developing and implementing voluntary nonlead hunting ammunition and fishing tackle programs.  The theory consists of all activities and effects occurring from the problem, research and development of the innovation, marketing of the innovation, rates of adoption, and consequences of adoption (both intended and unintended).  Decisions are characterized by 5 stages: 1) acquisition of knowledge; 2) persuasion; 3) decision to adopt or reject; 4) implementation of decision; and 5) confirmation or reinforcement.  By recognizing these stages, communicators can craft different messages aimed at specific audiences.  These groups can then be categorized as 1) innovators; 2) early adopters; 3) early majority; 4) late majority; and 5) laggards or traditionalists.  Change agents play a crucial role by developing the need for change, building rapport among stakeholders, and making meaningful connections with target audiences.  This framework can help communicators refine messages, increase efficiencies in developing communication materials, and monitor adoption of nonlead alternatives.  The initial step in this process, however, is to engage stakeholders about the importance of the issue and leverage that concern as a catalyst for a coordinated national voluntary program.   
North American Non-Lead Partnership- Expanding the Coalition of Hunters, Anglers and Other Conservationists Dedicated to Improving Ecosystem and Wildlife Health While Maintaining Our Hunting and Conservation Heritage.
Chris Parish, Leland Brown
Sportsmen and -women have been at the forefront of natural resource conservation throughout North America for over a century, and hunters continue to meet increasingly complex conservation challenges each year. Historically, many successful conservation efforts have focused on individual species recovery, and habitat conservation and improvement. In the last 20 years, significant research has identified lead exposure in scavengers across North America, and the world, with continental evidence of impacts. However, discussion of solutions has been mired in political controversy, limiting engagement from necessary stakeholders. The North American Non-Lead Partnership seeks to expand the coalition of hunters, anglers and other conservationists dedicated to improving ecosystem and wildlife health by choosing non-lead options. Using a fact based, collaborative approach, focused on incentives and voluntary participation, the Partnership has had success engaging stakeholders. This Partnership helps to create specifically tailored processes for partners like state agencies and traditional hunting conservation groups to engage with their own stakeholders on the specific details of the issue, ammunition choices, and ways to protect both our tradition of wildlife conservation and hunting heritage that are critical to both the North American Model and the future of hunting.
Proof in Concept- a History of Effective Small-Scale Programs Aimed at Decreasing the Threat of Lead Poisoning to Scavenging Wildlife while Shaping a Path for Landscape Scale Change
Leland Brown, Chris Parish
A growing body of scientific evidence examining the relationship between lead ammunition and scavenging wildlife has helped to shape our understanding of impacts. However, efforts to reduce or eliminate impacts have largely been small-scale and sometimes deemed marginally effective. Bridging the gap between contemporary science and creating lasting change in the field takes time, creativity, tenacity, and persistence. It is often the case that small-scale programs are overlooked for lack of overall impact, but initiating the conversation, sharing and translating corroborating science, are necessary steps to shape landscape-level change. By examining what seems to work at a small scale, larger programs can be designed and implemented.
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Perspective on Lead and Alternative Ammunition and Wildlife Management
Paul Johansen, Jonathan Mawdsley
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) was founded in 1902 and represents the interests of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies.  AFWA promotes sound management and conservation, and it speaks with a collective voice on important fish and wildlife issues. AFWA has worked collaboratively since the 1970s with state, provincial, territorial and federal wildlife agencies across North America to address issues related to lead ammunition and wildlife health.  These efforts have included work to address issues of nontoxic shot for waterfowl.  After years of controversy, AFWA prepared a position statement in 1986 that called for a mandatory but gradual phase-in of nontoxic shot nationwide.  This position was accepted by the Department of Interior and served as the basis for the phase-out of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in the United States.  AFWA has also worked to address issues relating to lead mobility at outdoor shooting ranges and encouraged states to adopt science-based guidance to address these issues.  In 2010, AFWA adopted the following principles regarding regulation of lead ammunition. Regulation of lead ammunition is best addressed by individual states, rather than federal agencies. State fish and wildlife agencies should proactively address lead ammunition issues associated with wildlife population health and cooperate with state health agencies where human health issues have been substantiated. Regulation of lead ammunition should be based on the best available science related to wildlife population health. Effective human dimensions strategies should be developed to ensure good communication. Collaboration with industry, conservation organizations, hunters and recreational shooters is essential. State agencies should focus regulation efforts where population-level impacts to wildlife are substantiated. Public education and voluntary programs may be used where appropriate in lieu of regulation. New regulations should include multi-year phase-in periods to allow industry, retailers and hunters time to transition and phase-in non-lead substitutes.
The Prairie Dog Problem: Lead Exposure in Scavengers, Poor Availability of Lead-Free Alternatives, and Difficult Outreach
Michael McTee, Brian Hiller, Philip Ramsey
Millions of prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and other small mammals are shot each year for damage control and recreation. We deployed game cameras in Montana, USA, to observe which birds and mammals consumed shot prairie dogs and ground squirrels. The camera footage documented a diverse scavenger community eating the carcasses, from burrowing owls to badgers. These carcasses create an ecological double-edged sword: they offer a pulse of nutrients to scavengers, but they might also expose those scavengers to lead bullet fragments. Shooters kill small mammals with various cartridges, with some of the most popular being the .17 HMR, .22 LR, and .22 centerfires. Compared to common calibers for big-game hunting, lead-free ammunition for small calibers is often less available and more expensive than lead ammunition. Several studies have tested the accuracy and terminal performance of lead-free bullets for smaller cartridges but found mixed results. When people advocate for lead-free ammunition, they must recognize the limitations people will face when shooting small calibers.
Lead-Wildlife Issues in Maine: A Case Study
Nate Webb
Over the past 40 years, Maine’s bald eagle population has recovered from fewer than 50 nesting pairs centered in the eastern part of the state to over 750 pairs statewide.  However, over the past few years this population growth has been accompanied by increased reports of eagles succumbing to lead poisoning, most likely due the consumption of lead bullet fragments.  In response, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recently initiated a public outreach campaign to encourage the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition by big game hunters.  The program began with extensive conversations with stakeholders to build consensus and support.  After several months of reliance on digital communication methods, the program has expanded to include a coalition of partner organizations, in-person demonstrations, and collaboration with wild game butchers to improve disposal of contaminated waste products.   Future plans include conducting human dimensions research to estimate changes in use of non-lead ammunition by hunters and refine messaging. 
Getting the Lead Out: Towards an Evidence-Informed Risk Communication Strategy
Dominic Balog-Way, Katherine McComas
To ensure that risk communication efforts do not produce unintended negative effects, lead ammunition risk management must be accompanied by evidence-informed risk communication strategies. In seeking to contribute to national and local efforts, our interdisciplinary team, comprised of wildlife and communication scientists and a professional filmmaker, developed an evidence-informed risk communication video, targeted at New York State (NYS) hunter education instructors and their students. This presentation discusses our experiences, focusing on interviews conducted with instructors from different NYS regions. The interviews meaningfully informed our video by revealing instructors’ knowledge, beliefs, and opinions about lead ammunition, as well as their willingness and ability to show our video in class. Our results suggested that instructors could be described as either advocates, skeptics, or indifferent. Advocates had high knowledge of the lead issue and a strong desire to avoid lead ammunition as much as possible. Skeptics believed lead ammunition risks are insignificant, exaggerated, or already well-managed, and strongly resisted using nonlead alternatives. The large majority, however, were indifferent, expressing low knowledge of the lead issue, its significance, and a general ambivalence towards switching to nonlead alternatives. Irrespective of their views, most instructors were (i) concerned about the higher price and lower availability of nonlead ammunition, (ii) uncertain about the relative performance of lead versus nonlead ammunition and (iii) strongly opposed to legislation or regulation (even though these approaches were not mentioned by the interviewer). All strongly believed that education and effective communication offer the best path forward, although most admitted rarely discussing the toxic effects of lead ammunition in class. Our conclusions discuss how these findings meaningfully informed our video, why a strategic approach to risk communication is needed, and what we plan to do next.
Lead Toxicosis in Bald Eagles: Deciphering Population Scale Impacts from Individual Mortality
Patrick Connelly
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations have appeared to have recovered across their range following endangered species listing, despite lead (Pb) toxicosis as a recurrent cause of morbidity and mortality. By applying knowledge regarding bald eagle biology and pathophysiology of lead toxicosis, we can attempt to better understand how the population has been impacted by environmental lead. Our objective was to assess the population-scale impacts of Pb toxicosis on bald eagles in the Northeast United States by evaluating whether Pb-associated mortalities altered the dynamics of population recovery from 1990 – 2018. Through the integration of necropsy and demographic data into a matrix population model, we compared population recovery under Pb (actual) and Pb-free (hypothetical) scenarios. Based on our analysis, the presence of Pb was associated with a simultaneous 4.2% (females) and 6.3% (males) depression in the long-term growth rate, and marked reduction in annual survival of hatchlings and reproductive individuals. Although bald eagle abundances continue to increase in the Northeast United States, the presence of Pb was associated with a reduction in the resilience of the population to sustain further losses from other sources of mortality.

Location: Virtual Date: November 4, 2021 Time: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm