DNR to encourage non-lead shot usage, but no new bans in store

Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources is embarking on a public information campaign about the harms of lead shot — and the benefits of non-toxic ammunitions — after a Hoosier asked the agency to take action.

But DNR won’t be implementing new restrictions, as Nancy Tatum requested.

Tatum, a former leader of the Indiana Native Plant Society, petitioned DNR to outright ban the sale of lead shot — which the agency said it can’t legally do. It also didn’t add to existing, narrow, limits on the use of lead shot on wildlife.

Dangers of lead

Lead is a heavy metal that is very toxic even in small quantities. It accumulates in soft tissues and bones, damaging the nervous system and other bodily functions.

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.9 million birds died annually of lead poisoning between 1938 and 1954, according to Tatum’s research, cited in a report the department’s board adopted last week.

A national ban on shooting waterfowl with lead shot cut deaths on the Mississippi flyway alone by an estimated 64%: about 1.4 million birds.

Tatum’s petition also emphasized the dangers to animals that scavenge big game carcasses, like bald eagles, golden eagles and raptors.

That’s because when lead bullets hit their targets, they fragment into irregular shapes and disperse.

Lead fishing tackle, Tatum noted, also presents dangers to fish.

And when humans eat animals killed with lead shot — especially when prepared with acidic marinates — they can absorb the neurotoxin.

Taking action

Tatum asked DNR to make lead shot unavailable for purchase, but the request was a non-starter.

In its report, the agency said it couldn’t “prohibit the sale of lead shot in Indiana because it is outside the authority of the DNR.”

It also noted that Hoosiers can use ammunition for target practice — not on animals — and in other states with different rules. The move could also harm retailers, according to the report.

However, DNR didn’t add new restrictions on the use of lead shot either.

Hunters already must use non-toxic shot when hunting mourning doves on DNR property, according to Indiana Administrative Code. Those alternatives are also required when hunting all species on the Goose Pond and Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife areas.

DNR spokeswoman Holly Lawson confirmed the agency’s board — the Natural Resources Commission — “does have the authority to regulate the use of lead shot in the state.”

But she said she couldn’t “speculate on” possible future actions of the commission.

Instead, the agency launched a new webpage detailing lead shot’s impacts, and the “health benefits” of alternatives.

“As fewer hunters and anglers use lead in their equipment, Indiana’s water (including drinking water) becomes cleaner,” the page reads. That benefits mussels, turtles and other animals.

“There’s also a lower chance that you and your loved ones will ingest traces of lead dust or fragments that can be found in game meat and fishing tackle,” it adds.

Hoosiers can also read about recent anti-lead efforts, including lead removal and recycling at DNR shooting ranges and lead exposure screenings of animals like gray foxes and bobcats.

And residents can access tips for how they can help cut lead exposure: buying similarly priced non-lead shot and tackle, properly disposing of lead equipment, properly disposing of lead-contaminated carcasses and gut piles, and more.

Spreading the message

DNR is planning to put out the word using its variety of social media accounts, according to Lawson, and its monthly emailed newsletter.

“This awareness work can take many forms,” she said.

“For example, individuals born after December 31, 1986, are required to complete a hunter education course prior to obtaining a hunting license. Additionally, DNR will be launching a new online licensing system next year that can allow for more direct communication between the department and hunters statewide,” Lawson continued. “DNR will explore whether information on lead shot can be shared through platforms like this.”

Lawson said discussions about how to best increase awareness would continue within DNR, and possibly its board.

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz – The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.