Foundation-Funded Study Is Instrumental in Changing Legislation
By Kelley Weir
Sportspeople from around the world enjoy hunting duck on the wetlands of Santa Fe, Argentina, one of eight provinces in the country that allows hunting each year. As a result, millions of pounds of spent lead ammunition are deposited into the ecosystem, and waterfowl ingest the lead as they forage for food in the sediment, soil and wetland vegetation.
Because lead has negative effects on people and the environment, its use in gasoline, paint, pesticides and food canning has nearly been eliminated worldwide. Lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in the United States in 1991, but despite significant evidence of its toxicity to the environment and humans, its use in fishing tackle and in ammunition for upland hunting and shooting sports remains common in the United States and throughout the world. In addition, in Argentina and many other countries, lead shot is still the only type of ammunition used for all types of hunting.
Conservationists believe that wildlife, including native ducks, are being harmed by the lead left to accumulate in the environment and that eliminating lead rounds is necessary to protect them. A recent field study funded by Morris Animal Foundation has provided scientific proof necessary to effect legislative change to reduce the use of lead shot by hunters and protect the long-term health of native duck populations in Santa Fe.
With Foundation support, Dr. Marcela Uhart and her team from the Wildlife Conservation Society have been testing ducks and soil and vegetation samples to measure the amount of lead at six sites in Santa Fe hunting areas.
They have learned that, after decades of hunting, the land contains a high concentration of lead. Though the concentrations varied, a significant proportion of the ducks tested positive for lead, indicating lead exposure at potentially toxic levels. Preliminary results were brought to the attention of the local government agency in Santa Fe province, where officials expressed great interest in addressing the problem.
“As a direct result of our efforts, the government of Santa Fe Province, Argentina, has begun regulating the use of lead shot. For the first time ever, the government approved a hunting act that limits the use of lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting,” says Sylvia Alexander, development officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Although the legislation doesn’t ban lead entirely, the new limits will reduce the amount of new lead introduced. This will benefit the entire region, keeping water and other ecosystems healthy. Dr. Uhart says the legislation is a huge step forward.
“We commend the government of Santa Fe for acting on the preliminary results of our study,” she says. “This is the first such regulation in the country and, hopefully, it will serve as a model for other provinces to emulate.”
Dr. Uhart adds that much work remains to be done. The success of this legislative change depends in part on how it is implemented and promoted among hunters and those who count on annual revenues from the sport. Although hunters are often strong advocates for wildlife conservation, and some are very supportive of the use of nontoxic lead substitutes, other hunters believe that lead shot is the best and argue that alternatives are difficult to acquire. Addressing such challenges collaboratively will require ongoing conversations between the provincial government, the hunting community and local businesses that depend on hunting directly and indirectly.
Morris Animal Foundation is delighted to play a part in this policy change that will improve the health of waterfowl in Argentina.
Posted by MAFon September 26, 2011. Permalink