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July 12, 2012

An Ill-Wind Toward Sportsmen


Regrettably, in responding to a newspaper column that cited wind turbines as a cause of bald eagle mortality, a wind energy spokesperson misleadingly claimed that the use of traditional ammunition by hunters and illegal shooting were doing greater harm to the species than its equipment.

Stories about eagle mortality usually have more to do with emotion than with science. The key point missed in the discussion is that the issue of eagle mortality is being overstated by the media and environmental groups given that bald eagle populations are soaring. The species’ recovery from dangerously low population levels throughout much of its range is a great conservation success story. In 2007 the bird was removed from the endangered-species list because its populations had recovered sufficiently, and today the species’ conservation status is one of “least concern.” So whatever the unfortunate causes of incidental mortality, such as collisions with power lines or the giant blades of wind turbines, the species is doing very well population-wise.

The decline in bald eagle populations was not caused by hunters and target shooters using traditional ammunition made with lead components. In fact, just the opposite it true. The excise tax dollars raised from the purchase of traditional ammunition by hunters and shooters has helped to fund the eagle’s recovery and to pay for wildlife conservation in general.

We do not doubt that the wind energy industry, like many other industries and individuals, is concerned about conservation.  But whatever the merits of energy generated by wind turbines, deflecting blame onto hunters and shooters neither strengthens that industry’s defense in the matter of eagle mortality or wins advocates among the shooting sports community. Rather, it will only embolden groups like the Center for Biological Diversity to launch more nuisance petitions and lawsuits, whether to ban  traditional ammunition made with lead-core components or possibly to halt wind-farm projects.

To put the entire bird mortality matter in perspective, the following chart shows that lead ingestion is a minor cause of avian mortality.

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