Lead poisoning killed more than two dozen Iowa eagles since last September

At least 28 eagles died from lead poisoning in Iowa between September 1, 2011 and April 15, 2012, according to data collected by the non-profit Saving Our Avian Resources. The real figure could be significantly higher, and even this statistic casts doubt on claims that hunting with lead ammunition does no harm to wildlife.

Saving Our Avian Resources is a non-profit established in 1999 to carry out “raptor rehabilitation, education, and research” in Iowa. The group reported on its website,

Iowa wildlife rehabilitators are collecting data on all admitted eagles (alive and DOA). These facilities include: Black Hawk Wildlife Rehabilitation Project, MacBride Raptor Project, SOAR, and the Wildlife Care Clinic. Between September 1, 2011 and April 15, 2012:

44 eagles admitted

34 of these were lead exposure or poisoning cases as revealed through blood, liver, or bone testing

28 of the 34 have died

So without lead in the system – we would only have admitted 10 eagles in that same time frame.

Plus one Cooper’s hawk with a #7.5 piece of lead shot in her digestive tract – also died from lead poisoning in that time frame.

Those numbers reflect only eagles brought into wildlife rehabilitation centers, not birds who fell ill and died without being noticed or rescued by humans.

The desire to protect predatory birds was a key factor in the state Natural Resource Commission’s July 2011 decision to prohibit lead ammunition during the newly-established mourning dove hunting season, set to begin on September 1, 2011. However, the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee delayed that rule from going into effect until after the 2012 legislative session. Although the Iowa House and an Iowa Senate committee approved a resolution nullifying the lead shot ban earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal did not bring that resolution up for a vote on the Senate floor before legislators adjourned in May.

The Senate’s inaction cleared the way for the Natural Resource Commission’s ban on lead shot to go into effect for this year’s dove hunting season, which begins on September 1. But Governor Terry Branstad quickly signed an executive order overturning the rule, saying “administrative fiat” should not force hunters to abandon “traditional ammunition.” The National Rifle Association applauded Branstad’s action, as did Democratic State Senator Dick Dearden, who sought for decades to legalize dove hunting in Iowa. Dearden claims there is no scientific evidence supporting efforts to ban lead ammunition. He believes advocates for non-toxic shot are pushing an anti-hunting agenda.

In reality, scientific research has proved that lead shot harms wildlife. Saving Our Avian Resources has prepared this fact sheet for hunters, making the case for non-toxic shot. It notes, “Over 130 different species of wildlife have been impacted by eating lead.” Far from discouraging Iowans from hunting, this information explains why “Using copper bullets and slugs and non-toxic shot saves wildlife and helps humans. You can help the environment and make great hunting memories for you and your family.”

The Lead Is Poison coalition provides more detail in this fact sheet on non-toxic shot.

* How much lead can be left on the ground? If five shots are taken for each of the estimated 300,000 doves harvested, and there is one ounce of lead per shot (16 ounces in one pound), there would be up to 9,375 pounds of lead left on the landscape.

* Doves are hunted over food plots. This concentrates lead shot in areas where doves and many other birds will be feeding, making them especially vulnerable to poisoning.

* Research shows that, when lead shot is used for dove hunting, as many doves die from ingesting lead and lead poisoning as are harvested (3% of the population). Approximately, 17 million doves are harvested in the United States each year which means another 17 million die from lead poisoning. […]

* Thirty-one states have requirements for non-toxic shot beyond the waterfowl requirement. Of these states, 24 have some form of non-toxic shot requirement for dove hunters.

* South Dakota requires non-toxic shot on most state land (totaling over 400,000 acres) and maintains the largest pheasant population in the country. Pheasants Forever says that South Dakota is the top destination for the traveling pheasant hunter.

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