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Lead bullets in deer carcasses harm eagles, other wildlife. DNR aims to educate hunters

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Environment, Government
An eagle eats a dead animal carcass in a tree along the Androscoggin River in Maine. (Paul VanDerWerf/Wikimedia Commons)

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources hopes to educate hunters about how using lead bullets threatens scavenger birds like eagles and vultures.

Birds and other wildlife that eat game killed with lead shot can have issues flying and reproductive problems. People who rely on wild game for food can also suffer health issues. Lead is also found in some fishing tackle and was responsible for nearly half of all loon deaths from the early 1980s to 2012.

Though a federal law doesn’t allow hunters to use lead bullets to kill ducks and other waterfowl, they can still use it for common game animals like deer, squirrels and other mammals in Indiana.

The DNR has set up a webpage informing hunters of the benefits of using bullets without lead and recommending less toxic options for anglers. It also hopes to set up a social media campaign encouraging hunters that use lead bullets to clean up the guts after field-dressing deer or other game to reduce the impact on eagles and vultures.

Linnea Petercheff oversees licenses and permits for the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. She said the education campaign is a good start.

“I think a lot of people want to be, you know, environmentally friendly or want to be careful about what they’re doing and may not have thought about that carcass that they leave in the woods,” Petercheff said.

It’s unclear how well the campaign will work. The DNR said though lead bullets aren’t that much cheaper than less toxic ones, there are not enough bullets without lead to meet the high demand for ammunition. Since the pandemic started, gun sales have gone up across the country — particularly for target shooters.

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The education campaign was inspired by a resident who petitioned the DNR to prohibit all lead shot from being sold in the state. But the agency said that’s outside its authority. However, other states have banned the use of lead bullets.

Marc Milne is an associate professor of biology at the University of Indianapolis who serves on the state Natural Resources Commission. He said California has banned lead shot in hunting and Illinois has considered similar legislation.

“These kinds of regulations aren’t that far fetched. And we just need to take the first step towards doing that and the market will shift accordingly,” Milne said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Marc Milne’s first name.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.