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February 18, 2015

Eagle Population Stronger than Ever, But Stories of Individual Birds Make Situation Look Dire


Recently, a few news stories popped up from different points in the country that highlighted deaths of bald eagles due to lead poisoning. In two of the stories (Virginia and Arkansas), it was reported the high levels of lead found in the eagles’ systems were due to the use of lead ammunition.  In another case, the bird’s lead level was low enough that a veterinary hospital expected a full recovery.

Although many may view these stories as a disturbing report on the environment, they actually are more indicative of wildlife activists’ mission to outlaw not only lead ammunition, but ultimately hunting itself. The organizations and agencies may be different, but the messaging that brings attention to individual birds’ cases is similar in tone, pretty much from the same song sheet.

These anti-hunting groups manipulate isolated deaths of America’s symbol to pull on people’s heartstrings. However, in reality, the bald eagle population within the U.S has never been healthier. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the national list of threatened and endangered species, which is also when nesting pairs of bald eagles stopped being counted. There are so many bald eagles now within the U.S. that they no longer need to be counted.

Additionally, these activists frequently cite different studies that detail the impact of elevated lead levels on eagles. However, the studies were conducted using flawed methodology. They only study sick eagles in captivity and then apply that data to the entire population. That is equivalent to finding that many of the people currently in hospitals are sick. Another way to look at it is to complain that more students are getting failing grades but ignoring the fact that the student body had quadrupled in size.  Iowa State University decided to rectify this problem by conducting its own study and discovered that most eagles in the wild are not exposed to high lead levels at all.

Last year the NSSF obtained the Humane Society of the United States’ anti-hunting playbook. Considering they assembled a strategy guide on how to ban lead ammunition in the states, this is clearly not about saving the eagles.  And let’s be clear, HSUS is not OK with hunting as long as hunters use alternative non-lead ammunition. Banning traditional ammunition is simply a strategy on the way to achieving their publicly stated goal of banning hunting.

Although these activists say they believe banning lead ammunition will “save the eagles,” it will actually wreak economic havoc on any state that chooses to enact a ban because less federal money will be sent to the state’s conservation programs. Enacted in 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act directs excise taxes from the sale of ammunition and firearms to state wildlife agencies. In 2013 alone, firearms and ammunitions manufacturers contributed $760.9 million to state conservation programs. Since there is minimal availability of non-lead ammunition, and it is considerably more expensive, outlawing lead ammunition would significantly deplete the resources available for these programs.

While it is sad to hear of the death of even one of our national symbols, it is worse to hear that groups such as HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would mislead the American people into thinking that this is an urgent national problem when, in reality, they are manipulating isolated events purely to advance their own agenda. I wish I could say we are surprised.