National Park Service Announces Lead Phase Out

California Condor. Photo: Greg Homel
California Condor. Photo: Greg Homel

Efforts to protect birds in the United States from the harmful effects of lead took an important step forward last week with the announcement by the National Park Service that it will begin to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing sinkers on its lands. The decision to make all parks lead free by the end of 2010 was announced by Acting Park Service Director Dan Wenk, who said, “We want to take a leadership role in removing lead from the environment.”


Lead is an environmental toxin that has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl deaths, including loons and swans. The birds accidentally swallow spent lead shot or fishing sinkers along with the sand and gravel they eat off the shores and beds of lakes and rivers to help grind up food in their gizzards. The lead quickly enters the bloodstream; a single lead shot or fishing sinker is enough to kill a swan.


Lead poisoning from shot left in hunted deer and elk carcasses is also a serious threat to the restoration efforts for the endangered California Condor. Several reintroduced condors have died in recent years, prompting California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ban all lead shot in the species’ California range. Birds continue to be at risk, however (see


X-rays have shown that tiny fragments of lead can be left in game killed with lead shot. The meat is consumed by humans, posing a serious health risk to children and adults.


“We are delighted that the Park Service has decided to introduce this lead phase out. With the easy and cost-effective availability of non-toxic alternatives for both hunting and fishing, there is no reason that lead needs to continue to threaten our wildlife,” said Dr. Michael Fry, Director of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy. “This is not anti-gun legislation, it is pro-wildlife and pro-human health legislation that we should all embrace for the sake of future generations who will inherit the environment we leave behind.”


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already banned lead in thirteen national wildlife refuges, and lead is also outlawed in Yellowstone National Park, which has one of the few remnant populations of Trumpeter Swans left in the country. Nevertheless, the United States continues to lag behind Canada and several European countries in the control of lead. Britain banned all small lead fishing weights in 1987, as did Denmark in 2002. In 1997 Canada banned lead fishing gear in all its National Parks and Wildlife Areas.