DNR repeals ban of lead bullets on some state lands

Bald eagle
A bald eagle gets a dose of anesthesia before undergoing tests to determine whether it has lead poisoning. Many eagles are poisoned after eating meat or entrails from hunter-killed deer.
Stephanie Hemphill | MPR News

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has temporarily repealed a requirement that hunters use non-toxic, lead-free ammunition in special hunts in state parks, because of an ongoing ammunition shortage.

Late last year, the DNR announced it would ban the use of lead bullets at state Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) that regularly allow hunting, and at special hunts at state parks and SNAs.

The decision followed a petition by the Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, which asked for a broader ban on lead shot and lead fishing tackle in SNAs and state parks because of the negative impacts lead has on human health and the environment. This includes the poisoning of iconic wildlife in the state such as eagles and loons.

But last month, the state agency adopted an emergency rule repealing the requirement to use nontoxic ammunition in state park special hunts, because of an ongoing, nationwide ammunition shortage.

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“Ammunition that meets non-toxic requirements for hunting in state park special hunts is not readily available and could significantly reduce participation this year. This would reduce the deer population management benefits of these special hunts, adversely affecting other natural resources in state parks,” wrote DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen.

The agency had heard from hunters that they wouldn’t be able to comply with the regulation, said Barb Keller, big game program leader for the DNR.

DNR officials stress that the repeal only impacts this fall’s hunting season. It’s “just a moratorium for this year,” Keller said.

The Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas was notified in advance of the DNR’s intent to repeal the requirement, said Board Chair Tom Casey.

“We view this as a hiccup and something that we are going to be working with the DNR to work through those issues, and hopefully get back on track to help the DNR fulfill its commitment,” Casey said.

Minnesota has outlawed lead shot for waterfowl hunting since 1987, but for years environmental groups have pushed for broader requirements of nontoxic tackle and ammunition across the state.

The DNR has resisted implementing more far-reaching bans on lead bullets or fishing tackle, arguing that’s a matter more appropriate for the legislature to address, given the number of stakeholders involved.

Casey said his group plans to be back pushing its case at the state legislature again next session.

“I think hunters and fishers really can burnish their reputation by being even more conservationist than they are now, by helping us get this through to make everybody safer, and protect wildlife.”