An out of the blue announcement this week by the National Park Service created a national stir. Acting NPS Director Dan Wenk announced, in a vague press release from the headquarters in Washington, the park service is going lead free.
"Our goal is to eliminate the use of lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle in parks by the end of 2010,” Wenk stated in the release. “We want to take a leadership role in removing lead from the environment.”
The misleading content of the press release hit like a bombshell with sportsmen’s and conservation groups across the country and here in West Virginia. However, St. Albans, West Virginia native David Barna, chief of Public Affairs for the National Park Service, attempted to allay those fears saying it’s not a rule change at all, but rather an in-house decision.
"It’s an announcement to let the public know that the PARK SERVICE intends to go to non-lead shot in our weapons and non-lead fishing gear in the work that we do,” said Barna. "It’s not a requirement or regulation for our visitors. We’re just announcing that’s the direction we’re going and we’re encouraging the public to do the same."
The release hit like a bombshell to sportsmen’s and conservation organizations across the country. Reaction was hot and swift. West Virginia DNR Wildlife officials say they are in the dark as well.
"You’re right, I got the news release this morning,” said DNR Wildlife Chief Curtis Taylor. "I’ve been on the phone to fish and wildlife officials in Washington trying to find out as much as we can. Like the ban on fishing tackle, does that mean jig heads? Does that mean lead sinkers? What does that mean?"
Apparently it means very little must change with hunters and anglers wanting to enjoy park property for their pursuits, but some remain skeptical of the Park Service intentions.
“The National Park Service’s decision is arbitrary, over-reactive and not based on science,” said Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry. “Studies show that traditional ammunition does not pose a health risk to humans, or wildlife populations as a whole.”
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control in North Dakota on those who ate venison killed with lead bullets showed no increase in lead levels.
"We want to see what the science is. We do very little that’s not based in science,” said Taylor. "That’s what I want to see is the science on the effects on wildlife in the east. We pretty much know it’s not having an impact on humans that eat meat that was shot by led bullets, the Centers for Disease Control told us that."
"I grew up there in St. Albans and all the soldering we did around the house for plumbing, that was all lead and it’s been replaced,” said Barna. "There’s no lead in pipes any more. There’s no lead in pewter glasses for drinking. In the last few years we’ve seen a reduction in lead in gasoline, children’s toys, and now you’re seeing it in ammo and fishing weights."
Some consider the comparison of lead in gasoline and other common consumer products to the lead in bullets and split shot sinkers an "apples-to-oranges" comparison. Barna counters that those lead sinkers lost in a stream, eaten by ducks, then consumed by humans or predators can spread higher lead levels. But, even he concedes the possibility is remote.
"There’s science that shows how lead travels in wildlife and their bloodstream, but there certainly is not scientific evidence that anyone’s been contaminated from eating waterfowl or fish from streams, no,” Barna said.
"It’s not a ban in any way, it’s just a heads up that this is the direction we’re going in and we hope it serves as an example to others coming into the parks,"