Bald eagle
A bald eagle lands in a tree overlooking the Des Moines River in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

By Larry Keane

The Department of the Interior announced that America’s bald eagles have come soaring back. Outdoorsmen and women have been celebrating this for decades, but local news reporting is missing the picture.

“‘A tough bird.’ Rescued eagle in Raleigh fights to stay alive after lead poisoning,” reads one headline. “Bald eagles in N.C. are fighting for survival — from lead poisoning,” says another. “Getting the lead out: Wildlife rescuers desperate to save bald eagles from being poisoned,” reads one more.

It’s a deceptive narrative with a goal to shame America’s hunters and push counterintuitive bans on traditional lead-based ammunition.

Flying High

The good news is remarkable. America’s bald eagles have recovered from near extinction. In 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs. Those dire days are long gone. The Department of the Interior released a 2020 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report celebrating that there are 71,400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, and more than 316,000 individual birds. The bald eagle population has quadrupled since 2009.

Bald eagle
A bald eagle carries a goose in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, N.M. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland praised the bald eagles’ return. “Today’s announcement is truly a historic conservation success story,” she said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams added her praise. “The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the most well-known conservation success stories of all time.”

Bald eagles are thriving.

Narratives

It’s unfortunate when an eagle is brought to a rescue facility. Some are injured after ingesting lead. Suspicions arise that it is from carrion tainted with lead fragments from hunters’ bullets or anglers’ fishing weights. Reports never account for eagles at landfills or other sources of contamination.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported on a bald eagle brought to the American Wildlife Refuge (AWR) in Raleigh, North Carolina, after ingesting lead. Suspicions tied injuries to hunting, but it is never proven. In the report, the American Eagle Foundation named lead poisoning as a “leading concern” for birds of prey and that “millions” are affected each year. The News and Observer also reports the AWR “treated four other bald eagles in all of the past year.”

AWR Director of Animal Care Steve Stone blamed hunters. “This is not a first-time thing. This has pretty much become the routine, and will be the routine until that law comes to be.”

That’s belied by the paper’s previous reporting, though. The News and Observer once reported on North Carolina’s bald eagles’ return. “The eagles have made a remarkable recovery, both in North Carolina and nationwide,” the paper reported. “The birds were removed from the list of threatened and endangered species in 2007 because their numbers had increased so much.”

Bald eagle
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Similar narratives appear elsewhere. The Bangor Daily News called for a lead ammunition ban. “The science is clear: We are killing our bald eagles with our use of lead ammunition in hunting, forcing them to die slowly and inhumanely.”

They didn’t bother with the research or science. In 1962, there were 27 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Maine. Today there are “a robust 734 nesting pairs.”

It’s the same in Minnesota, North Dakota and all across America. Bald eagles are thriving.

Motives

Anti-hunting and gun control groups push traditional ammunition bans for ulterior motives. Sometimes it’s to limit hunting. Some know nontraditional ammunition is more expensive and requiring it would price some gun owners out of the market.

What is lost is that bald eagle recovery is directly tied to firearm and ammunition manufacturers paying excise taxes and hunters supporting them.

Bald eagle
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The firearm and ammunition industry has contributed more than $13.6 billion in Pittman-Robertson excise taxes since 1937. These funds, combined with hunting and fishing license revenues, are apportioned to states for conservation projects and wildlife management, including bald eagle recovery.

States pushing traditional ammunition bans, like Oregon, Washington, California and others, harm conservation by reducing the population of hunters and limiting conservation funding.

News reports often look to find someone to blame. Instead, they might see the truth about eagle recovery…if they’d bother to look up.

 

Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

 

28 COMMENTS

  1. Not only are bald eagles thriving in Northern California, I’ve read that the condor is recovering and expanding its territory to the north from SoCal. The near extinction of condors was blamed on lead pellets from bird hunters, but the science is mixed. Nonetheless, steel shot has been the rule for some years, and nonlead hunting ammo is now the law. Hunters from other states complain that their states don’t stock copper rounds, and then when they come here, they can’t buy any ammo without a full blown background check and a ten day wait.

    • I’m pretty sure there’s no one bitching about how expensive non-lead ammo is in other states when they come to the DPRK to hunt. They might be bitching about how it’s illegal to buy ammo out of state and bring it IN, but price is secondary to that concern.

  2. Do these people think we just started using lead ammo last year? LMAO we were hunting with lead the entire time bald eagle populations were booming back to recovery.

    But nobody questions propaganda…

  3. I think the robert pitman act just buys new hats and a pickup.
    Redtail hawks eat about the same stuff as an eagle except it dont catch fish or target waterfowl like an eagle. We’ve not used lead for waterfowl in years. I’d say if its lead poisoning its probably comming from the fish. I’ve never caught a fish that had a sinker in its gut, maybe someone has but not me. So I’d say the fish are getting the lead from the water itself, cant do much about that. And if the eagles are getting the lead from critters how come the hawks ain’t endangered.
    Just ban gunms and boolits, that fixes everything.

    • Forget about eagles for a minute- check out the huge increase in the number of vultures and crows around the country since among other things, DDT was regulated out of common usage. They also regularly feed on carrion as do bald eagles.

      It would seem that the reason for the original decline of most birds, large and small, was due to poor egg shell hardening caused through exposure to DDT via consumption through various sources. Of course, the number of human deaths from malaria and other insect-borne diseases has risen exponentially since the world-wide DDT ban but who would give a damn about humans?

      When I was a kid in the 1960s I was in the fields with a gun every time I got the chance. Seeing crows, hawks or an eagle in E Iowa was a noteworthy event and we never saw a vulture except while camping in extreme N IA. Now they are all prolific statewide. At this point we now have nesting pairs of eagle in all 99 Iowa counties. This stat is confirmed by the same IA DNR that regularly attempts to ban all lead shot, projectiles, fishing sinkers and even wheel weights.

      Attempts to ban lead- a naturally-occurring substance on this planet, are merely attempts to further regulate hunting and shooting in general out of the American lexicon. Don’t fall for it and don’t allow it in your state. It is already illegal to hunt state property in Iowa using lead shot.

  4. I have about half a dozen bald eagles living or visiting my property. They are of course my honored guests asking with the some hundred elk that habitually hang out to graze in my fields, swim in my reservoir, and eat my lawn. I’ve even for a photo of a six month old elk calf looking in the living room window, casing my house for a burglary.

  5. Everyone knows the Democrats own the lying % of the media, the trueful media is been pushed aside and over shadowed by the corruption of the Democrats paid-off media associates, they will cheat,steal, lie even kill to publish false statements to help the Democraps achieve their GOAL, while packing their pockets.

  6. “The science is clear: We are killing our bald eagles with our use of lead ammunition in hunting, forcing them to die slowly and inhumanely.”

    Quick, call the governor of New York for a policy recommendation! He’s so good he can write a book and sexually harass women while planning out how to kill these eagles faster and more humanely. Lingering for months? Nah, Cuomo can do it in a few weeks.

  7. California tried this with the California Condor, Barnes bullets made a lot of money as a result. After California got a ban in place (restricted area not whole state) it was released that the Condors were showing methyl ethyl lead poisoning. For the youth this was a gasoline additive that was banned in California 1992 and US 1996.

  8. How about a comparison of the number of these birds (supposedly) killed by ingesting lead shot, and the number definitely killed by the thousands of wind turbines every year? Of course, that would not fit the Lamestream media’s narrative.

    • Gipper’s Ghost,

      Um, you might be surprised how much angst there is in the Progressive and tree-hugger world about communication towers and wind turbines allegedly killing millions of birds every year.

      I have even heard mention of some group attempting to limit and possibly prevent all new construction of communication towers and wind turbines in order to stop their supposed death toll on birds.

    • They’d do better to focus on wind power which has federal approval to kill thousands of eagles per year. Bet that’s far more that those who die from eating lead shot in carrion.

  9. I cancelled the loathesome Leftist rag Raleigh N&O over 10 years ago and I loved giving them an earful when they periodically called begging for me to re-start a subscription at a ridiciously low discounted price. Part of their phone-sale computer driven script would ask WHY I didn’t want to restart and I had great fun dictating to the drone what to exactly type into their computer for the N&O fascists to read.

    “…and your Leftist douchebag articles ……Oh it is spelled D-O-U-C……..”

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  11. “News reports often look to find someone to blame. Instead, they might see the truth about eagle recovery…if they’d bother to look up.”

    Reporters? Truth? Damn that’s a funny ass April fool’s joke there.

  12. I mean, doesn’t this just mean it’s time to invest in new ammo technology?

    Get rid of gun bans so manufacturers will be prompted to spend some money on R&D and check out some new technologies.

  13. Windmills kill a great of eagle’s and Obama let power companies kill even more but you never hear about that

  14. Baldies (aka baldeaded buzzards) are a good example of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Where I live we recognize them for what they are first: scavengers with an ingrained sense of invulnerability. They can be aggressive towards people, they do steal cats, pups, and some young farm critters…and if they’ve eaten salmon lately just pray they don’t crap on your car unless you don’t care about your paintjob. Just a common pest up here that attracts other pests…Lower 48 tourists.

  15. The article fails to point out that non-toxic shot is required nation wide for migratory waterfowl hunting. In the past refuges, public hunting areas and Duck and Goose clubs were exposed to a lot of spent lead shot. I’m a hunter and I’ve seen geese and swans with symptoms. Now, it seems swans with their longer necks seem to be the only commonly affected waterfowl. Non-toxic projectiles are appropriate for heavily hunted areas, as well as areas where species commonly feed on carrion (gut piles) like Condors and Golden Eagles.

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