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DNR considers extending ban on lead shot

Most pheasant hunters in Minnesota will need to replenish their shell bags and game vests with nontoxic shot in the next three years if a new proposal by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) becomes law.

The DNR is seeking a ban on lead shotgun pellets for upland game hunters in the farmland parts of the state. A final decision will rest with the Legislature, but the idea was floated last month and has found some support — and some resistance.

“We think it’s the right thing to be doing now,” said Bill Penning, Farmland Wildlife Program Leader for the DNR. “We’d rather be proactive than reactive and not wait until it’s forced on us.”

Minnesota has banned lead shot in migratory waterfowl hunting since 1987; the federal government adopted the same ban nationally in 1991. The DNR has also required nontoxic shot over managed dove fields since 2006. Other states are pursuing similar policies; South Dakota bans lead shot for upland game hunting on public lands.

“Our basic position is that lead is a toxic material, and putting it out in the environment is not something we should be doing,” said Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota. “With the development of nontoxic shot, it seems like good public policy to require their use in hunting.”

The Minnesota proposal, as it is now written, would not take effect until 2011. Grouse hunters in the northern forests would not be affected.

Alternatives to lead include steel, tungsten and polymer shot.

Among those opposed to the idea are the munitions industry, including the Federal Cartridge Co. of Anoka, and the National Rifle Association. Critics of steel shot say that it ends up crippling more birds than lead shot because it is lighter, carries less energy and has a reduced range. Tungsten does not have some of the characteristics of steel, but it is more expensive than lead.

“If wildlife agencies want to further restrict lead shot, they have to have scientific proof that lead shot by hunters in upland game situations is causing problems,” said Ryan Bronson, conservation specialist with Federal Cartridge. Lead shot is “overwhelmingly” the most common load sold by Federal to upland game hunters, he said.
Nevertheless, Federal will introduce an upland steel shot load this summer in a profit-sharing partnership with the conservation group Pheasants Forever.

A survey by David Fulton of the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Minnesota found that hunters are equally divided on the issue, with 40 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.

The proposal grew out of a 2006 advisory committee report on nontoxic shot. 

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