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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
Lead has been used by humans since ancient times. Signs of lead poisoning have been
documented for just about as long. Because of lead's toxicity to humans and the environment, its
use in products is currently being phased out in this country. Older houses painted with lead
based paint or with lead pipes are carefully being renovated. Lead levels added to gasoline are
being lowered. Another major change is the elimination of poisonous lead shot and the
mandatory switch to nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunters.
Lead poisoning in waterfowl was first documented in the US in 1894. Since then, lead
poisoning of waterfowl has been found in all the major flyways in the world including the United
Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. More recently, lead poisoning has also been documented in a
wide variety of upland game birds such as pheasants and quail, as well as shorebirds. The
newest recognized threat of lead poisoning is in the raptors, or birds of prey.
Wildlife biologists recognized the need to eliminate lead shot as early as 1935.
Experimentation with steel shot began in the fifties, although it wasn't until 1991 that laws were
finally changed making nontoxic shot a requirement for all waterfowl hunting in the United
States. Before the changes from lead shot to nontoxic shot, waterfowl hunters in the lower 48
states were depositing several million pounds of lead into the environment each year. This lead
in the environment was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 to 3 million ducks and
geese each year, as well as an unknown number of upland game birds and raptors. Here in
Alaska, the number of lead-killed waterfowl equals as much as 10 times the total number of birds
waterfowl hunters kill each year.
Why does lead shot have such an impact on waterfowl? Ducks and geese have a gizzard
which is a part of the stomach that can be characterized as the teeth and jaws of the bird. It is
inside the gizzard that food is rotated and crushed before moving down into the main part of the
stomach. This grinding action within the gizzard is often aided by a bird swallowing sand, grit,
or a few pebbles. Waterfowl get in trouble when they pick up toxic spent lead shot for use in
their gizzard instead of sand or even non toxic steel shot. Some lead shot is picked up by
accident whereas it appears other waterfowl species deliberately select the lead shot. What this
all means is that millions of ducks and geese are being poisoned while they are feeding, and
many consequently die from the effects of ingesting lead shot left behind by waterfowl hunters.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, this is Beverly Skinner. The
solution to lead poisoning in waterfowl is non-toxic shot. It has been reported that as few as one
or two #6 lead shot pellets is sufficient to cause lead poisoning in waterfowl. In some areas of
Alaska over 1/3 of nesting birds are found to have elevated lead levels in their blood. I'll have
information on alternatives to lead shot next week.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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