LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 4 no 3 Winter ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Targeting Toxic Shot

by Jeff Turner

Reprinted with kind permission from The Advertiser, January 5, 1996, page 13, Adelaide, South Australia.

ACROSS Australia, shooters blast about 350 tonnes of lead into the country’s wetlands every year - and that lead could keep on killing for hundreds of years. It is a simple, deadly process, say the researchers. Many birds swallow grit, scooped up on or just below the beds of lakes and lagoons, to help them grind up their food.

When they swallow lead, it poisons them. Often they starve to death. How lead spreads well beyond the birds targeted by shooters is at the centre of a new drive to have lead shot banned in all Australian wetlands.

South Australia has pioneered official action on lead shot. This is the only State which now has a blanket ban on lead shot for duck hunting. Instead, shooters by law must use steel or bismuth, so-called "non-toxic" shot. Now a national task force is examining how a ban could extend across all States, involving more delicately managed co-operation between governments, shooters and environmentalists.

While SA interests might have shown an unusual degree of agreement concerning the lead ban here, there is clearly a robust discussion ahead over the ban extensions.

Dr Bob Inns, of the Wildlife Management Section of the Dept of Environment and Planning, says international research shows lead directly linked to death in birds never targeted by shooters. Mr John Peek, representing the SA Field and Game Association, argues that lead banning should be looked at on a site-by-site basis.

But Mr Brian Clark, district ranger for the Upper South-East which includes Bool Lagoon is in no doubt: "What we have in South Australia should be adopted across Australia. Lead is a very insidious poisoner of our wildlife. It should be taken out of the system."

Mr Geoff Russell, of Animal Liberation, is concerned about the wounding rates, regardless of shot used. "The average shooter wounds close to 100 birds for every 100 birds bagged. The wounded die horribly," Mr Russell says. "If steel shot has any advantage, it is at close range. Over 37m or less, steel is at least a more efficient killer."

A task force discussion paper says that waterfowl death caused by lead - other than being hit by shooters - was first recorded late last century.

Bool Lagoon was to play a vital role in the recognition of lead damage, and in the subsequent ban covering lead shot in duck hunting in SA. In a 1989 survey, following concerns over high numbers of magpie geese deaths, a concentration of up to one million pellets of lead per hectare was uncovered in parts of Bool Lagoon. This contrasted with levels as low as 3400 pellets over 1ha in Lake Cowal, in New South Wales, recognised as a low hunting area.

SA’s pioneering investigations confirmed that many species outside those being targeted by duck shooters were being killed by lead residue. In 1987, lead shot was banned from Bool Lagoon and, in 1992, from all game reserves in SA. The ban extended to duck hunting, State-wide, in 1994, with shooters left with the alternatives of either steel shot or bismuth produced in the process of metal smelting. Bismuth has been used in the United States, Canada and Holland since the early '90s. Steel shot has been available here for about 20 years. But the problems with these alternatives centre on price. A box of 25 rounds of lead shot costs about $10 - doubling to $20 for steel shot, and doubling again, to about $40, for bismuth.

The discussion paper argues that removing sales tax, now about 22 per cent on steel and bismuth, would encourage shooters to make the change. The paper urges that any phase-out or ban of toxic lead should be accompanied by hunter education and staff training.

Dr Inns admits there will be problems in an Australia-wide adoption of the SA no-lead duck code. "We needed - and got - good co-operation from the various hunting organisations in South Australia after we all saw what was happening at Bool Lagoon," Dr Inns says. "In the 1994 season (there was no 1995 season), we had very good compliance from shooters. Of course, there will always be people who don’t want to stop using lead, either because of the extra cost in changing shot, or because they don’t understand the reasons behind the ban.

"Now there is a decision by all the States to have an Australia-wide perspective. We’re lucky in having taken the initiative." Dr Inns believes the ideal would be the adoption of the SA law.

"We’re recommending a phased-in program of non-toxic shot in other States. It could be introduced first in game reserves, or on a State-wide basis, but that will be left up to the individual States," Dr Inns says.

Mr Keith Tidswell, national executive director of the Sporting Shooters’ Association, says his organisation does not agree with a blanket ban on lead shot. "Lead shot works effectively and humanely. It is the best shot," he says. He questions the need for lead bans, for example, in deep-water areas, where, he says "the ducks don’t go down to the bottom to feed."

"Now there is talk of banning lead in quail shooting. That is not only unnecessary but crazy. Quail are hunted over dry land. I am not aware of anything that picks up lead shot on dry land."

Mr Tidswell points to the increased costs forced on to shooters because of the price of steel shot and bismuth. "People need to be educated as to the use of different-size shot, and there is a problem with older shotguns which are not suitable for steel shot," he says.

Mr Peek says the whole issue of non-toxic shot is based on research gathered by shooters: "We surveyed the swamps; we highlighted how serious the problem was; we showed where the problems were arising.

He says lead banning should be looked at on a site-by-site basis: "There are a great many places which will never have a lead problem. In some areas, the shooting pressure is so light that banning lead shot will make no difference.

Mr Peek says a survey of shooters revealed cost was a major concern in any change to either steel or bismuth. "People were reluctant to use steel because it is less effective in bringing down birds and because it causes problems in older-style guns. We believe that the hunting community has shown that it is tackling this problem seriously. If the Federal Govt is really serious, it should remove the sales tax on steel shot and bismuth," he says.

"It is in our interest to work for the good of the duck population."

Mr Clark is equally certain: "What we have in South Australia should be adopted across Australia. Having seen the results of lead poisoning, watching wildlife die a slow and agonising death, I think it is vital that lead is taken out of the system. It is a very insidious poisoner of our wildlife. The effects are just revolting."

For Mr Clark, the lead issue really arose in 1985 when there was a serious drop in water levels at Bool Lagoon - and a disturbing number of wildlife deaths, particularly in a new magpie geese flock. "Our research showed an alarming level of lead poisoning. The trouble is that the lower the level of water, the more birds try to feed from the water bed. And we are talking of lead which will be in the soil for hundreds of years," he says. A number of hunters unwilling to comply with the no-lead rule have faced prosecution.

"Responsible hunters have co-operated, to the point of reporting people using lead. They see Bool Lagoon as fragile and if it is closed down to all hunting, the sensible shooters will suffer," Mr Clark says.

He believes that steel shot will help make shooters more concerned about wastage: "People who can shoot certainly get their bag, just as readily with steel shot as with lead. But the wounding rate with steel seems to be less. Maybe that’s because people are more careful about how they aim."

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