Having been removed from the endangered species list in 2007, the American bald eagle still has its struggles. In Michigan, the lead ammunition used by hunters is poisoning the birds at an increasing rate.
An eight-year study published in 2022 found that nearly half of bald and golden eagles nationwide tested positive for chronic lead poisoning. In Michigan, where the bald eagle population sits between 3,500-4,000, lead poisoning is the species' third leading cause of death; eight eagles die of accidental lead poisoning for every one eagle illegally killed, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Research has found the main source of this environmental toxin is lead ammunition in wild game carcasses and "gut piles" – entrails left behind when hunters clean game in the field. Lead bullets shatter on impact, resulting in countless microscopic fragments that are easily swallowed by scavenging eagles when they happen upon that free meal.
It appears that a ban on toxic ammo is impossible because people lack that decency.
But some are wary of suggesting an all-out ban on lead, fearing it would be too divisive. Hunters who oppose giving up lead may do so because they're loyal to their preferred ammunition, or because the cost of lead remains lower than non-toxic alternatives, such as copper.
There are outdoors organizations, however, that are committed to promoting non-toxic options. In 2020, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, or MUCC, passed a resolution to support the use of non-toxic ammunition and to educate the public on alternatives, some of which they say are actually more effective than their lead counterparts.