Minnesota Recommends Nontoxic Shot Regulations

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A committee tasked with studying nontoxic shot regulations by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recommended a cautious approach to restricting the use of lead shot by hunters beyond current federal and state regulations.

The report supports the DNR's decision to restrict lead shot on state dove fields this past season. In addition it highlights a number of scenarios that would reduce the amount of lead used by hunters. Fifteen states, including South Dakota and Iowa, currently have restrictions on lead shot beyond current federal regulations. Nine states, including Minnesota, are in discussions about restrictions.

"The committee agreed that it's responsible and reasonable for hunters to reduce lead in the environment by moving toward lead shot alternatives," said Bill Penning, DNR farmland wildlife habitat coordinator. "The report provides critical insights on how the DNR might move in that direction while mitigating the affects on hunters, law enforcement and industry."

The 11-member committee of sportsmen, conservationists, technical experts, industry representatives and law enforcement, met five times throughout the summer to write the 70-page report. The committee's findings will be presented at this year's Fish and Wildlife Roundtable discussion in early January.

"Our report indicates different ways in which the state can approach reducing the amount of lead in the environment," said Mark Martell, director of bird conservation at Audubon Minnesota. "Clearly the goal of reducing the amount of that toxic substance is good for the entire state."

The committee identified several principles as guidance for fish and wildlife leaders. Among them are:

  • lead is toxic to humans and wildlife and restrictions on lead shot are inevitable
  • any nontoxic shot requirements should phased in to allow hunters and industry time for adjustment
  • recommendations in the report seek to maintain hunting in a sustainable manner.

The committee discussed alternatives only for lead shot; it didn't discuss issues surrounding the use of lead in bullets or shotgun slugs.

Although there were divergent opinions, the committee favored three scenarios that could be implemented to reduce the use of lead shot.

  • eliminating the use of lead shot for doves on all public and private lands statewide
  • eliminating the use of lead shot (shotgun hunting) for all small game species hunting on public land in the farmland zone
  • eliminating the use of lead shot for all small game species on all public and private land in the farmland zone.

The committee also considered, but came to no clear conclusions on the following scenarios:

  • eliminating the use of lead shot on all wildlife management areas statewide
  • eliminating the use of lead shot for all small game species on all lands public and private.

"The use of lead shot in small game hunting is increasingly becoming an issue as hunters become more aware of the dangers surrounding lead in the environment," said Dave Schad, director of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife. "Minnesota hunters and the Department of Natural Resources are taking a proactive step by looking at ways to move toward lead shot alternatives."

In recent years, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as well as the Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society have been studying the issue and preparing position papers.

"As responsible users of our natural resources, hunters and conservationists must constantly evaluate their sport," said Pheasants Forever Senior Field Coordinator, Matt Holland. "This report shows a proactive approach to the non-toxic shot issue and it provides a framework that the agency may use in determining if, when, and how any regulations occur."

Following the roundtable presentation, DNR Fish and Wildlife managers will use this report in conjunction with national studies to develop a phased-in strategy to reducing lead in the environment.

In 1987, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska enacted statewide restrictions on the use of lead shot for all types of waterfowl hunting. Nontoxic shot has been required for waterfowl hunters nationwide since 1991. The use of nontoxic shot is also required nationwide on federal waterfowl productions areas.