The American bald eagle’s life is once again being threatened. The NRA praises Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s March 2, 2017, reversal of President Barack Obama’s ban on lead ammunition use. The initial Jan 19 ruling that prohibits lead, in ammunition and fishing tackle, was made after observation of the harmful effects lead has had on fish and wildlife.
Lead Ammunition Threatens Extinction of Bald Eagles
The bald eagle has stood proudly as the emblem of the United States of America since June 20, 1782, when the country’s Great Seal was adopted. The eagle was chosen to represent America’s values of freedom. They are seen as a majestic bird, that soars among nature demonstrating their boundless independence. At the time that it made its debut as the national emblem, it is believed that there were about 100,000 nesting eagles.
The birds showcased their freedom and impressively flew in large numbers until the mid-to-late 1800s when humans set their sights on the birds of prey. As the eagles zeroed in on farm animals, they were being shot, which quickly reduced their population.
Their numbers declined further as its nesting habitats were eliminated. With the threat of extinction looming, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940. The Act forbade killing, possessing, and selling of the bald eagle, but a new threat against the bird was soon to be manufactured.
WW II brought with it the innovation of DDT to stem the invasion of mosquitoes and other insects. Unfortunately, the pesticide poisoned fish and wildlife.
Previous Efforts to Rescue the Bald Eagle From Extinction
Just a couple of years after the birds were saved from being shot, their lives were once again threatened by eating the fish in waters polluted with DDT. At the same time, it was discovered that the lead ammunition, that the NRA seeks to protect, was also sickening and killing the eagle. The birds were eating animals that were shot with, or had ingested, lead shot and were being inadvertently poisoned.
In 1963 there were only an estimated 417 pairs of nesting bald eagles. America’s proud symbol was near extinction. The Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 enabled the Secretary of Interior to list bald eagles south of the 40th parallel as endangered on March 11, 1967.
As of Dec. 31, 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT in the U.S., taking a major step in helping the national bird recover.
On Feb. 14, 1978, the EPA to upgrade the eagle to endangered in the lower 48 states, with the exception of five states, which were Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin where the eagle classified as threatened.
By 1995, the eagle was upgraded to threatened in all of the upper 48. By 2006, the EPA estimated there were 9,789 nesting pairs. The EPA removed the bald eagle from the threatened and endangered list on Aug. 8, 2007.
Now, the American bald eagle and other wildlife are at risk of becoming endangered again, due to ingesting environmental poison. The reason is that ammunition containing lead is causing the death of bald eagles.
Animal carcasses, containing bullet fragments, are being eaten by the birds of prey. Morsels of the lead enter their bloodstream leading to sick and dying birds. Sixty percent of the eagles that were treated at the Wildlife Center of Virginia was diagnosed with lead poisoning.
Between 2000-15 a lab at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported that 38 of 336 bald eagles that died from lead poisoning. The lab stated that nine birds lost their lives to lead in 2016. In the first seven months of 2017, seven bald eagles died from the same condition.
Krysten Schuler, a Cornell University wildlife disease ecologist working with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation reported:
We’ve examined over 300 bald eagle carcasses for lead since the mid-1990s, and found 83 percent had some exposure to lead.
In Oregon, Blue Mountain Wildlife center’s director says that their clinic reported that 75 percent of the eagles brought in have lead in their blood.
Kevin Hynes, who conducts the necropsies in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says that the effect of the lead poisoning on “individual birds is worrisome.”
By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Cathy Milne
The Humane Society: Lead Ammunition: Toxic to Wildlife, People and the Environment
Guns.com: Obama’s wildlife director moves to ban lead ammo use
NRA-ILA: The NRA Applauds Secretary Zinke’s Protection of Traditional Ammunition
American Bald Eagle Information: Bald Eagle, US National Emblem
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Newsday: Lead from hunters’ bullets is poisoning, killing bald eagles
EPA: DDT Regulatory History: A Brief Survey (to 1975)
Federal Register: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Bald Eagle in the Lower 48 States From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife
Top and Featured Image by Ronald Carlson Courtesy of Public Domain Pictures – Creative Commons License