Concerns Grow Over Lead In Wildlife

By KBJR News 1

July 8, 2011 Updated Jul 8, 2011 at 2:23 PM CST

Posted by Melissa Burlaga

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) Lead poisoning in people has spurred regulations to remove the element from household products.

Now a growing issue concerning lead in wildlife has got conservationists on the front lines pushing to remove it for good.

Chris Axelson explains.

Seeing a Bald Eagle fly over head in the Northland is always an uplifting sight, but when a Duluth couple came across an eagle unmoving in a ditch what they found out was alarming.

Experts think the culprit was a lead sinker lying on the bottom of a lake.

"From there, they are taken up by fish, the fish are consumed by raptors and then the raptor gets the lead poisoning."

It isn't only eagles that are consuming the lead.

"Waterfowl such as the loon or trumpeter swan have a hard time digesting their food, so they need to eat pebbles like these in order to get it to digest in their stomachs. Now, you can tell it would be very easy to mistake a lead sinker for a pebble if you're just a bird."

Conservationists say there needs to be a mandate to remove lead from fishing and shooting equipment.

"We know lead is bad, so what we need to do is say what's better."

Conservationist Dave Zentner says products are out there that are just as effective at landing that big catch.

"I've fished for several years with alternatives to lead. Fish don't mind the difference. They bite on the non lead jigs."

The debate over lead's ill effects is far from new.

Lead has already been removed from shotgun shells, paint, and even gasoline engines.

Conservationists agree that education and better marketing for non-lead jigs and sinkers is what it will take for anglers to stop using them.

But until lead is removed completely from tackle boxes, Wildwoods Rehabilitation Center offers a word of advice.

"If you do see sinkers or jigs lying around pick them up. That may be one loon or eagle saved by picking up what was left behind from other fishermen."

If you happen to come across wildlife that may be poisoned by lead, officials urge you to call the DNR office closest to you.