In response to an announcement regarding a National Parks Service program encouraging hunters to voluntarily switch to alternative ammunition, the National Shooting Sports Foundation rejected NPS's categorization of traditional ammunition as a health threat. NSSF is offering to work with the National Park Service to develop measures to educate hunters about steps they can take to prevent scavengers from ingesting lead fragments of spent traditional ammunition. The park service is proposing to ban, at a minimum, the use of lead bullets, shot and sinkers in the park system by NPS personnel.
While no scientific evidence supports restricting the use of traditional ammunition containing lead components, the firearms industry believes that establishing voluntary measures is a more reasoned step than banning traditional ammunition, a drastic policy decision unsupported by science. NPS has raised concerns that lead bullet fragments found in game meat could cause lead poisoning in humans, a charge not borne out in scientific studies, including a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
"While we're not opposed to voluntary measures, we maintain there is no need for them," said Steve Sanetti, president of NSSF, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry. "The firearms industry supports science-based decisions about wildlife management. Under current regulations, there is no scientific evidence showing that the health of wildlife populations and humans is at risk from the use of traditional ammunition."
In a press release, Grand Teton National Park and National Elk Refuge officials encouraged hunters to voluntarily switch to alternative ammunition during the 2009 elk and bison seasons. The voluntary measures are being advocated even though the manager of the elk refuge has told NSSF there have been no population impacts on ravens and eagles connected with the use of traditional ammunition.
NSSF says that educational messages can help inform hunters about options related to voluntary measures, such as how to choose alternative ammunition and how burying game entrails can reduce the chance of scavenger birds ingesting fragments from spent bullets in game carcasses. "Hunters were the first conservationists and are second to none in their support of and concern for wildlife," said Sanetti. "Surveys have shown that hunters are agreeable to taking voluntary measures, and our educational efforts in California to promote the burying of entrails was successful. We would like to work with NPS on this."
The use of traditional ammunition does not pose a health risk to human beings, a fact underscored by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on North Dakota hunters who consumed game. The study showed there was no reason for concern over eating game taken with traditional ammunition. There has never been a documented case of lead poisoning among humans who have eaten game harvested with traditional ammunition.
Earlier in the year, the park service announced a ban on traditional ammunition that applied to park personnel involved with culling sick and wounded animals and indicated it would consider widening the ban to all hunters. The firearms industry and conservation groups criticized the ban in a press release, calling it "arbitrary, over-reactive and not based on science."
"In some areas today, wildlife management is being driven by fear of litigation, not by science," said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel.
For example, in California the Fish and Game Commission was forced to consider expanding a ban on traditional ammunition in areas protected for the California condor in response to a lawsuit settlement. However, the commission followed the recommendation of the Fish & Game Department and recommended not to expand a ban on traditional ammunition in those areas. The department had previously cited lack of conclusive evidence to support an expansion of the ban.
Said Keane, "Any decision made about federal lands with regard to ammunition products should be based on thorough scientific study of population impacts. Currently, there is no scientific evidence that indicates wildlife populations are being negatively impacted. We are calling on Congress to step in and provide the necessary oversight to prevent any unilateral actions by NPS on this issue. To date, the NPS decision-making process has not been transparent and based on sound, thorough science."
Keane also expressed concern over the cost to hunters forced or coerced into purchasing alternative ammunition products. "Non-traditional ammunition is expensive and about doubles the cost of a box of bullets," he stated. "In these difficult economic times, imposing voluntary or mandated restrictions on the use of traditional ammunition will serve to keep people from hunting and have a negative impact on the Pittman-Robertson Conservation Fund."
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of every box of ammunition and each firearm goes to the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which is the keystone for state wildlife conservation projects.