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Wildlife Rehabilitator: Lead Ammo Poses Risks for WI Wildlife

A group of hunters gather in southern Wisconsin for a late season antler-less deer hunt.
Nathan Rott
A group of hunters gather in southern Wisconsin for a late season antler-less deer hunt.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is considering a ban on lead ammunition on several national wildlife refuges, a move some wildlife advocates want to see replicated at the state level in Wisconsin.

Mark Naniot, director of wildlife rehabilitation for Rhinelander-based Wild Instincts, explained lead ammunition fractures into small particles when fired into an animal, which means lead-contaminated meat can then be consumed by hunters and scavengers.

"They ingest these tiny little lead particles, and all it takes is one or two almost microscopic particles to cause lead poisoning," Naniot noted.

Naniot explained Wisconsin's Conservation Congress, which acts as an advisory committee to the Department of Natural Resources, has voted on lead ammunition regulations in the past, although it has never approved such policies.

While there's no current ban, the Department of Natural Resources recommends against using lead-based ammunition and angling gear, citing concerns over lead poisoning.

Many hunters have embraced lead-free ammunition, but some counter it is more expensive than lead-based ammunition and less widely available. Naniot acknowledged the cost for a box of lead-free ammunition can be $10-$20 more, but argued it can take hunters years to go through a single box of ammunition.

"There's 20 shells in a box," Naniot pointed out. "And most people will shoot maybe one or two at a deer, maybe shoot a couple to make sure their gun is sighted in. So, you're shooting two or three [shells] a year. Well, that box is maybe going to last you maybe four or five years."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comment on the proposed lead-ammunition ban until August 8. The rule would open up 19 federally-managed refuges to hunting, with the trade-off being lead ammunition would be banned on those lands. None of the refuges are located in Wisconsin.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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