THEIR OPINION: DNR must get the lead out
ROCHESTER, Minn. -- On Nov. 8, hundreds of thousands of hunters will fan out across Minnesota's forests, swamps, pastures and farm fields. Their quarry will be deer, and all but the tiniest fraction of these hunters will carry guns loaded with le...
ROCHESTER, Minn. -- On Nov. 8, hundreds of thousands of hunters will fan out across Minnesota's forests, swamps, pastures and farm fields. Their quarry will be deer, and all but the tiniest fraction of these hunters will carry guns loaded with lead ammunition.
It's time for that to change -- and it's also time for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to stop sending a mixed message to the state's hunters.
Seven months ago, a doctor in Bismarck kicked off a firestorm of controversy when he X-rayed 95 packages of ground venison and discovered lead particles in more than half of them. Health officials in North Dakota and Minnesota responded by pulling 16,000 pounds of venison from food shelves -- and were roundly criticized by many hunters for overreacting.
But now, scientific data indicates this was the right move. Much of that recalled meat was found to contain lead fragments, and when the Minnesota DNR conducted tests to determine what happens to lead bullets when they hit deer, the results were shocking.
Some rifle bullets that commonly are used in northern Minnesota were found to fragment into more than 140 pieces, and they spread up to 14 inches from the point of impact. Other ammunition didn't perform quite as badly, but the study left little doubt that a lead bullet doesn't stay in one piece when it hits a deer.
So concerned are DNR officials that they've changed the state's year-old venison donation program. Venison processors are being required to take new training, with an emphasis on reducing lead contamination. No ground venison will be given to food shelves -- with the idea being that lead fragments would be more likely to go undetected in hamburger than in steaks and roasts.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health is recommending that pregnant women and children younger than 6 shouldn't eat venison from deer that were killed with lead bullets. And the DNR is telling all deer hunters to "Take lead exposure seriously."
The DNR might want to consider following its own advice and announce a ban on lead ammunition for deer hunting -- and a suspension of the venison donation program until that ban is enforced.
Yes, this is a touchy subject, and ammunition manufacturers -- and a lot of hunters -- would howl in protest. Realistically, it's probably too late to enforce such a ban in the upcoming season. Many hunters have purchased their ammunition already, and they wouldn't have time to field-test nontoxic ammunition in their guns.
But copper bullets are available, and by most accounts, they work well. By announcing this ban for the 2009 season, the DNR would put ammunition manufacturers on notice that demand for nontoxic products will increase substantially.
The bottom line is this: We can't encourage people to hunt deer, then say "But don't feed it to your kids." We can't say "Lead is a dangerous toxin," then tell hunters to "Use your own judgment."
And we can't say "Donate a deer for the needy" when we know that the vast majority of deer shot this year will fall to lead bullets.
-- Rochester Post-Bulletin