Military Moves Toward Lead-Free Ammunition

The United States military has decided to move to a non-lead version of their 7.62 millimeter bullet, which will hopefully prompt hunters to do the same.

Lead bullets kill millions of birds in the US each year when they eat spent ammunition, mistaking it for grit or seeds.

"If non-lead ammunition is good enough for the U.S. military, with all their ballistics and performance testing, it should be good enough for hunters," says George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. 

The organization is encouraging hunters to voluntarily switch from traditional lead-based ammunition to non-lead alternatives. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show that birds are poisoned, including Bald Eagles, hawks, vultures, California Condors, and Mourning Doves.

The California condor, the largest bird in North America, was saved from extinction by a captive breeding program that increased its numbers in the wild. But now the condor is facing a new and pernicious threat – lead from bullets used by game hunters, says Yale University’s Environment 360.

California Condor:

California Condor

Hunters and manufacturers say non-lead ammunition costs more, but with the military adopting it, that could bring down costs. "The quantities of ammo required by the military will no doubt require that ammo producers acquire the new equipment to not only produce non-lead ammo, but also produce it in large quantities at much lower costs," says Fenwick. "This is a game-changer because it provides a signal to the ammunition manufacturing industry that the non-lead market is increasing, and provides some assurances that necessary capital investments will be safe financial risks."

In 2010, the military converted the 5.56 millimeter a non-lead bullet, eliminating nearly 2,000 tons of lead from the environment. An additional 4,000 tons of lead will be gone from this latest decision.

Lead is a problem in more ways. It is also in fishing weights used by fisherman, the most common cause of death for common loons.

Conference This Month

If you are interested in bird conservation, an international conference, 5th International Partners in Flight, takes place August 25-28 in Snowbird, Utah.

Formed in 1990, Partners in Flight is a collaboration among 400 organizations. The goal of this meeting is to develop a set of "conservation business plans" to prioritize actions needed to improve migratory bird habitats and the status of their species across the Americas. Here is the website:

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