Eagle Population Threatened by Lead Poisoning, PA Game Commission Issues Warning for Hunters
We are now into rifle deer hunting season, and we have a serious warning tonight from the Pennsylvania Game Commission for hunters.
They're asking hunters to change a decades-old habit in order to save bald eagles, which are dying at a high rate from lead poisoning.
In Crawford County, eagles are suffering from high levels of lead toxicity, which causes blindness and the loss of the ability to fly. Most of the time, it ends up in death.
“Lead poisoning in eagles is a serious condition right now,” said PA State Game Warden Chip Brunst, Information and Education Supervisor for the State's Northwest Region. “You are in the capital of bald eagle lead poisoning in Pennsylvania, Crawford County has the most cases of it.”
Bald eagles are scavengers and will eat carcasses. Over time, Brunst says it's the lead fragments or residue from the ammunition that causes lead poisoning.
“The gut pile, there's fragments of lead in there and those fragments of lead are ingested by these eagles and all your birds of prey, and their bodies cannot consume that lead,” said Brunst.
Suzanne DeArment, founder of Wildlife in Need Emergency Response in Crawford County, says she has seen first-hand the damage lead can do to bald eagles.
She says wildlife rehab facilities like Tamarack Wildlife Rehab Center in Saegertown are treating more and more eagles with lead toxicity.
“They're finding that it's out there more than we ever thought,” said DeArment. “Lead toxicity, as it starts getting into the system then it cannot be reversed, and many of the bald eagles that came into rehab centers actually have a high level of lead toxicity in their system and cannot be saved."
So the Game Commission is reminding hunters to take some extra steps.
“The thing to do is, after you harvest a deer, find a place to bury the gut pile, or if you can't do that, cover it up with some brush,” said Brunst.
They’re also asking hunters to consider choosing non-lead ammunition like copper bullets.
“The problem is, even when an animal is shot with lead bullet, there's a residue left over,” said DeArment. “If you don't want to change your type of ammunition that you're using, then again, dispose of it, bury it, so that another animal can't get it.”
The Game Commission says a lot of the lead issues are coming from woodchucks, a nuisance rodent which people shoot and kill to protect their property from damage or their animals from injury. Instead of just leaving it for other scavengers, you should bury it. The Game Commission says just leaving the carcass full of lead can cause some serious injuries to bald eagles.