Editorial: Making the switch

When a couple of ice fishermen discovered an ailing bald eagle on Flanders Pond in Sullivan Jan. 6, they gently covered the bird with a jacket and called for help. A game warden rescued the eagle and turned it over to volunteer bird rehabilitators. Despite the best efforts of all involved, the eagle later died. The diagnosis: lead poisoning.

Within the first two weeks of the new year, five eagles found in the state tested positive for elevated levels of lead. All had to be euthanized.

Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, has dealt with 57 cases of eagle lead poisoning in the past five years, according to the Morning Sentinel. In response, the state is working on a campaign to convince hunters to switch from lead to copper ammunition.

Hunters should seriously consider transitioning to non-lead ammunition, and, in the meantime, take precautions while disposing of game killed with lead bullets.

Lead ammunition breaks up into tiny fragments upon impact. Opportunistic predators, eagles will eat game used as bait for other animals or gut piles left behind in the field. A tiny amount of lead in the meat can prove fatal for the birds.

It’s an unnecessary loss of life, even though the overall bald eagle population is at healthy levels in the state.

The majority of Maine’s hunters respect the animals they hunt and the natural environment in which they live. For them, the sport is about being outdoors in the still crispness of a fall morning, sharing a tradition and testing their mettle. Tales of “the one that got away” are shared as eagerly as those of the trophy buck.

As the Portland Press Herald pointed out in a recent editorial, hunters in Maine have always played a central role in conserving land and wildlife for outdoor recreation. If they hear a good case for copper ammunition, they could become some of the strongest proponents of a switchover.

The price and performance of copper ammunition are issues for some hunters, but there’s another way they can help.

Diane Winn, co-founder and executive director of Avian Haven, told The American that proper disposal of game killed with lead ammunition, including carcasses, gut piles and waste meat from game butchers, could prevent eagle lead poisoning.

“If this meat could be kept out of the field, the problem for eagles would pretty much disappear,” Winn said.

It’s a clean solution.

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