A proposed change to Minnesota’s hunting regulations could send upland, turkey, and small game hunters down the same road as waterfowlers. The Department of Natural Resources is proposing a ban on lead shot on its wildlife management areas, claiming the loads are finding their way into wetlands — and waterfowl — despite being fired elsewhere.

If the ban is passed, hunters of pheasants, ruffed grouse, turkeys, Eastern cottontails, white-tailed jackrabbits, Hungarian partridges, and woodcock would all have to switch to some form of non-toxic shot. The new rule would not affect deer hunters, though they are “encouraged to to consider using non-toxic alternatives” by the DNR.

Hunting squirrels with a rifle is still legal; only lead shotshells are outlawed for their taking.

The changes would affect roughly 31 percent of Minnesota’s WMAs. The Farmland Zone stretches northwest from Highway 70 through the middle of the state, extending to Kittson County in the extreme northwestern tip. The zone’s WMAs constitutes roughly 400,000 acres in the traditionally prairie regions of Minnesota.

State forest land, private land, and walk-in access areas would not be subject to the ban.

There are 1,440 public wildlife areas in Minnesota, comprising 1.29 million acres — one of the largest systems in the U.S.

Discussions of the lead ban began in 2008 after a similar ban was included, and later withdrawn, from an omnibus game and fish bill by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary. If signed into law, the new ban could take effect as early as 2018.


The Farmland Zone runs south of the state's WMA dividing line. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

The Farmland Zone runs south of the state’s WMA dividing line. (Image courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)


The DNR posted several reasons why hunters should support the ban on their website:

“Lead is a toxin that can kill humans and wildlife when it is eaten. Recent news reports have described concerns related to lead in children’s toys and discussed how doves, loons, eagles, ravens, and trumpeter swans have died from lead poisoning. Many hunters are still using lead shot even though sportsmen’s groups like Ducks Unlimited support the use of non-toxic shot.

“A regulation banning lead shot will protect wildlife and support a healthy environment. Banning lead shot will improve the image of hunters, safeguard hunting opportunities, and preserve our hunting heritage. Support a ban on toxic lead shot in Minnesota’s farmland zone.”

Contrary to the DNR’s rationale, Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Delta Waterfowl, Safari Club International, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, and Hunting Works for Minnesota have come out against the ban.

The Humane Society of the United States supports banning lead, though.

Pheasants Forever member Darin Rahm penned an article for Twin Cities that addressed the proposed ban:

“… ammunition bans cannot be separated from gun control and animal rights agendas. Earlier this year, the federal government tried to ban the ‘green tip’ rifle bullet through executive action. This shot ban by the DNR is also an executive action aimed at a class of ammunition, and the proposed rule would be the largest ammunition ban since California’s legislature adopted legislation sponsored by the anti-hunting group the Humane Society of the United States.”

Rahm pointed to the effects on ammunition sales under the Pittman-Robertson Act as a consequence of the ban. If non-toxic shells cost hunters more than lead ones, fewer hunters may participate in the sport, or they may severely curtail their purchasing. That would in turn lead to fewer dollars raised through the act’s excise tax, meaning less money finds its way into the state’s wildlife management programs.

Minnesota banned lead shot for duck hunting in 1987, four years prior to the national ban took effect in 1991. While lead is admittedly dangerous to both humans and wildlife when ingested, a separate article by Twin Cities’ Outdoor Editor Dave Orrick pointed to a missing link between upland, turkey, and small game hunting and waterfowl ingestion.

“What is not widely accepted in science, however, is the impact of the lead poisoning. ‘We don’t have science that shows it negatively impacting on a population,’ acknowledged Steve Merchant, wildlife program manager for the DNR and one of the agency’s point people on the proposal.”

Whether the ban will be passed on its second time at bat remains to be seen: There was no word on when/if the bill will be voted on as of press time.



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