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by Blaine Smith, Associate Editor

Thanks to the activism of NRA members, the EPA refuses to bow to anti-hunting groups’ demands that the agency impose a nationwide ban on lead ammunition.

In late August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put an end to the latest scheme by anti-hunting groups that had hoped they’d found a foolproof weapon to stop hunting: a nationwide ban on lead ammunition.

This ambitious “Get The Lead Out” campaign—marshaled by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and joined by the American Bird Conservancy, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Project Gutpile and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility—would have forced America’s millions of hunters to forego the most common types of ammunition and purchase more expensive alternatives.

This, in turn, would have driven countless hunters away from the field and the range—the true goal of these groups’ attempts to eradicate lead ammunition, which is contrary to federal mandate.

“These extremist groups are trying to ban bullets under a federal law that specifically doesn’t apply to ammunition,” Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA executive director, said when the lead ban was first proposed. “In addition, they are using false data and emotion instead of sound science to further their political agenda.

“The CBD is an anti-hunting organization attempting to assert its political relevancy at the expense of American hunters and sportsmen, and the NRA will not allow the CBD to mislead the public about the effects of lead ammunition.”

It’s a pitiable image: a bald eagle belly-up on a slab, its feathers disheveled, the white shock of its head matted and dirty. Dead, the caption says, from lead poisoning.

The photo, prominent on the cover of a report from the Center for Biological Diversity, et al., to the EPA arguing for a ban on lead ammunition, is meant to stir emotion, obviously.

Throughout the petition’s 100 pages, emotion—not sound science—is what these anti-hunting groups play on in an attempt to change the course of America’s conservation success.

But much like the studies the groups cite, the true story of the bald eagle—both the bird pictured and the species as a whole—reveals, upon closer examination, why the EPA was wise in denying the petition.

The eagle pictured on the cover was found dead on Tennessee’s Norris Lake. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was “determined the eagle’s liver contained elevated levels of lead, leading scientists to conclude the eagle died of lead poisoning.”

Of course, lead shot cannot with any certainty be identified as the source of the lead that poisoned the eagle. Further, federal waterfowl hunting regulations have mandated the use of steel shot for the past 20 years, further suggesting the futility of a lead ammo ban in doing anything but disrupting hunting.

And where the CBD and its cohorts use bald eagle populations as an example of the dangers of lead ammo, the staggering resurgence of bald eagle numbers since the species was placed on the national endangered list in 1976 shows the truth. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of breeding pairs of bald eagles increased 724 percent between 1981 and 2006.

The California condor, too, is proffered as another victim of the CBD’s imaginary lead ammo holocaust—convenient for the petitioners, as this scavenger was the impetus for a 2008 mandate in California that banned the use of lead ammo on specified tracts of land. The group thought they could rely on the same flimsy studies that duped California officials to roll out a nationwide lead ban.

Yet once again science wasn’t on the anti-hunters’ side: condor deaths pre- and post-ban in California have remained static, meaning the lead ammo restrictions have had no effect on condor mortality.

The anti-hunting groups even made an attempt to correlate human consumption of animals taken with lead ammo with increased rates of lead poisoning—yet another claim that was missing one important detail: a hint of truth. The petitioners themselves admit as much, noting that a joint study by the Centers for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Health looking to identify a correlation between those who ate game harvested with lead ammo and increased blood-lead levels was “inconclusive.”

Such “inconclusive” results didn’t keep the petitioners from amping up the hysteria even further: the petition alludes to concern over the indigent eating venison harvested with lead and donated to food banks. Would these groups rather have people starve than allow hunters to donate meat to help their hungry neighbors, though no evidence points to any harmful effects? It seems so.

Sound science, it’s clear, wasn’t on the side of the CBD’s anti-hunting coalition when they asked the EPA to ban lead ammunition, but neither was the law.

In an Aug. 20 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, NRA’s Cox reminded the agency that, though the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) does allow the EPA under certain circumstances to regulate “chemical substances,” Congress explicitly excluded from this definition “pistols, revolvers and firearms (other than pistols and revolvers), as well as ‘[s]hells, and cartridges.’ ”

The EPA received the CBD petition in early August, and announced it would allow until the end of October—just two days before the November elections—for a period of public comment.

Yet just one week after the EPA received the letter from NRA, the agency announced that it was denying the petitioners’ ammunition-ban request because “TSCA does not provide the Agency the authority to address lead shot and bullets. …”

It’s clear the CBD knew the EPA had no authority to ban lead ammunition but proceeded anyway, hoping to take advantage of what it called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to severely restrict access to hunting for millions of Americans.

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