Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, April 17, 2012

Contact: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351 or

House Passes Wildlife Lead-poisoning Bill Disguised as “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act”

Bill Also Rolls Back Public-lands Protection, Promotes Polar Bear Trophy Hunting

WASHINGTON— The U.S. House of Representatives today passed H.R. 4089, the misnamed “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act,” aimed at preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting millions of birds and other animals from lead poisoning by hunting ammunition left in the wild. The bill, approved by a vote of 274-146 and likely to be blocked by the Senate, now becomes fodder for anti-environmental riders that Congress periodically attaches to appropriations legislation.

“House Republicans keep pounding out their grim drumbeat on behalf of corporate interests with this assault on environmental protections,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill actually jeopardizes the health of hunters and prevents the federal government from acting to prevent the needless lead poisoning of our wildlife.”

H.R. 4089 seeks three fundamental rollbacks of conservation laws. First, it would exempt toxic lead in ammunition and fishing equipment from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act, despite the fact that affordable, effective nontoxic alternatives exist for lead ammunition and lead sinkers for all hunting and fishing activities.

Second, it would undermine longstanding federal environmental law that provides important protections for America’s public lands, exempting decisions on hunting and fishing from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act — including decisions to curtail hunting and fishing in favor of energy development. It would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from protecting national monuments from shooting vandalism.

Third, it would allow the import of polar bear “trophies” from Canada under newly created exceptions to federal law. The declining polar bear is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and is also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because of climate change, overharvesting and disease.

“This bill should be renamed the ‘Sportsmen’s Death Knell Act,’ ” said Snape. “It flies in the face of traditional American hunting values to conserve — not needlessly kill — our game. Instead of upholding values dear to many hunters, it degrades wildlife habitat on public lands and mandates continued use of known poisonous lead bullets and sinkers that are unhealthy for hunters and anglers as well as our wildlife. There are powerful reasons we banned toxic lead from gasoline, plumbing and paint; now it’s time to finally rid this toxin from our bullets and fishing sinkers.”

Secondary lead poisoning from spent lead ammunition kills millions of birds annually. More than 150 organizations in 38 states are pressuring the EPA for federal rules requiring use of nontoxic bullets and shot for hunting and shooting sports to prevent lead poisoning of wildlife such as bald eagles, endangered condors, loons and swans, and to protect public health. Recent scientific studies show that hunters have higher lead levels in their bloodstream, and more associated health problems, than the public at large. Lead poisoning can cause miscarriage, premature birth, learning disabilities and nervous system disorders.

Background on Lead

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the federal law that regulates toxic substances; it allows the EPA to regulate any chemical substance for a particular use; the lead used in shot and bullets is defined as a toxic “chemical substance” under the Act. Although the EPA currently claims lead bullets and shot fall under an exception that exempts regulation of items subject to an Internal Revenue Service section 4181 excise tax imposed on sales of shotgun shells and bullet cartridges; the IRS itself has ruled that section 4181 “does not apply to sales of separate parts of ammunition such as cartridge cases, primers, bullets, and powder.” A House report on the legislative history and intent of the Act states it “does not exclude from regulation under the bill chemical components of ammunition which could be hazardous because of their chemical properties.”

Despite being banned in 1992 for hunting waterfowl, spent lead shotgun pellets from other hunting uses continue to be frequently ingested by swans, cranes, ducks, geese, loons and other waterfowl. Many birds also consume lead-based fishing tackle lost in lakes and rivers, often with deadly consequences. Birds and animals are poisoned when scavenging on carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, which contaminate popular hunting grounds at high densities. Spent lead from hunting is a widespread killer of more than 75 species of birds and nearly 50 mammals. More than 500 scientific papers have documented the dangers to wildlife from lead exposure.

Lead ammunition also poses health risks to people when bullets fragment in shot game and spread throughout the meat humans eat. Studies using radiographs show that numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles of lead can infect meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet wound, causing a greater health risk to humans who consume lead-shot game than previously thought. State health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of lead contamination. Nearly 10 million hunters, their families and low-income beneficiaries of venison donations may be at risk.

Learn more about the Center’s Get the Lead Out campaign.

Go back