Two scientific papers concerning lead ammunition and poisoning have recently been published by researchers in England, and are receiving quite a bit of attention overseas. The first, by Green and Pain (2012), documents the potential health risks to families consuming gamebird meat taken with lead shot. Their results found the following:
“Consumption of 0.4-0.7 gamebird meals per week may be associated with a 1 point decrease in the IQ of children.
Consumption of 2.8-4.6 gamebird meals per week may be associated with a 1% increase in the prevalence of spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.
Consumption of 1.2-1.9 or 4.0-6.5 gamebird meals per week (depending on the statistical model) may be associated with a 10% increased prevalence of chronic kidney disease in adults.
Consumption of 3.2-5.2 gamebird meals per week may be associated with a 1% increase in the systolic blood pressure in adults.”
Abstract from Green and Pain's (2012) paper in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
These results are based on the “potential health risks” of consuming game meat containing lead ammunition, that is, the study did not actually feed people game meat containing lead ammunition. This is one of the many issues lead-ammuntion proponents have with studies such as this concerning lead poisoning in humans. We know lead is bad for us, but we can’t actually test this by feeding people meat containing lead and seeing if it poisons them. That would be unethical. What we can show is the “potential” detrimental impacts of lead, and let people use their common sense about consuming game meat containing lead.
The second paper, by Newth et al (2012), documents the continued poisoning of wild waterbirds from lead gunshot, even though legislation in the UK has been enacted to restrict its use. Elevated lead levels were found in 34% of waterbirds tested during the 2010/2011 winter in Britain! Furthermore, no difference was found in the proportion of birds dying from lead poisoning in England after the introduction of legislation restricting the use of lead ammo.
Abstract from Newth et al (2012) paper in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.
This issue again highlights the need for improved outreach and educational awareness concerning the lead issue. As we have seen with the California condor in California, throwing a lead ban in the face of hunters with no education, and no way of actually enforcing the ban, does nothing to limit the exposure of wildlife populations to lead poisoning. England is now experiencing this same problem. We need to education hunters first, about lead ammunition’s harmful impacts on wildlife and human populations, before they can understand why making a switch to non-lead ammo is important for wildlife and their families. This is exactly what Wild Lens is striving to achieve with our documentary concerning the California condor and lead poisoning: “Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union.”
Fragmentation of a lead rifle bullet. Photo by Chris Parish.
Considering it was Labor Day weekend, the tiny town of Twain Harte, CA remained a surprisingly tranquil place, and made it a perfect small-town venue for a film festival among the pines. The intimate event boasted its share of fantastic cinema, including feature films, shorts, and of course, documentaries.
A brand new 60 minute cut of Wild Lens’ own Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union was shown at 4 PM on Sunday, and the response post screening was enthusiastic. Co-director Eddie Chung was on hand to field questions and shed light on some interesting facts. The film focuses on the responsibilities of hunters and how their choice of ammunition plays a vital role in the lead poisoning issue: while no one in the audience was a hunter themselves, Eddie was quick to point out that almost everyone in the audience knew a hunter first-hand, and had eaten wild game meat before. This underscored the importance of not using lead ammunition, as it affects many more people than we may initially imagine.
Eddie was also quick to point out that condors are such resilient birds that they are able to hold up to three times the amount of lead in their blood than humans can — we would drop dead long before our blood held that high a concentration.
Scavenger Hunt inspired lots of insightful commentary from the audience, who was clearly moved by the issues that the film raised. One woman said, “this is a fabulous film, how can this get out to more people?” Eddie responded that there are many plans for widespread distribution in the future, including possible deals with PBS and the BBC. Another asked, “do you show this to rifle associations?” This prompted Eddie to discuss Wild Lens’ troubles getting access to interviews with such hunter and rifle groups, which have so far been afraid and/or reluctant to address this issue head on.
Based on the large number of passionate questions, it was clear that the screening was a success. The film did what it set out to do — it affected and educated the entire audience, and everyone stepped out into the sunny mountain air a bit wiser having watched it.
Greetings fron Twain Harte, CA (elevation: 4,000 ft.), where Wild Lens’ own documentary Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union is being screened as a featured film at the second annual Twain Harte Film Festival. Hidden away up in the pine-filled Sierras, this pleasant little town boasts its fair share of vultures and deer, and a hike at nearby Pinecrest Lake yesterday saw a good number of osprey gliding and swooping in search of fish. Twain Harte has been hosting the festival all weekend since its kick-off on Friday evening with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.
It’s surprisingly appropriate that a film like The Birds was the first screening at a festival where Scavenger Hunt is being shown, as its sci-fi theme of nature retaliating against the unnatural ways of modern man ties right into the essential issue at the heart of Scavenger Hunt itself: the consequences of man’s careless apathy towards nature.
On hand for the screening was actress Veronica Cartwright, who, among starring in The Birds as a 12-year old child actress, has been in such films as Alien and The Witches of Eastwick. On top of sharing some stories of partying with Ridley Scott and Jack Nicholson, Cartwright offered some interesting insight into the treatment of birds during the filming of The Birds. At one point in the film, a seagull swoops down and bites a girl on the head. To film this scene, a seagull was tethered to a string, with its beak and legs bound. During filming, the large bird broke loose from its string, and the production had to be shut down while the bird was re-captured, as it would have surely died with its bindings still on. In another scene, a mass of tiny birds swarms down a house’s chimney and terrorizes a family in its home. This scene was actually filmed on a set contained in an air-tight bubble, where 15,000 actual sparrows were released down a chimney, re-collected, and released again and again for different takes. These techniques would surely never be allowed by PETA in today’s Hollywood — things have come a long way in 50 years. Scavenger Hunt screens this afternoon at 4:30 PM, and I’ll be on hand to report the event. In the mean time, enjoy the long weekend!
I am happy to announce that Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union, our documentary about California condors and lead poisoning in wildlife, will be screening at Film Fest Twain Harte in beautiful Northern Californiaduring Labor Day weekend on Sunday, September 2nd. Take a look at the festival line-up!
Over the past several months we have been working on a shorter cut of the film geared towards television broadcast. Eddie Chung (The Achievers) and I have been working with our award-winning editor Pam Wise (Secretary, TransAmerica), and I strongly believe the result is a significantly more concise and powerful film. Our screening at Film Fest Twain Harte will be the first public screening of this new edit, and we are extremely excited to see what kind of response we get!
Throughout Film Fest Twain Harte we will have live blogging from writer and Wild Lens volunteer Eric Podolsky. Eric (he’s my cousin!) works as an editor for huddler.com and is an avid blogger (check out his site at www.thefreshavocado.com). For those who aren’t able to make it out to the festival, we will be releasing live festival updates and film reviews throughout the long weekend at www.wildlensinc.org.
Up until this point the debate over lead-based rifle ammunition has revolved around the question of a ban on the use of the product. As you’ll see in this video, biologists and hunters are trying to shift this debate away from concerns over banning lead ammo and instead focus on realistic ways to address the issue of lead poisoning in wildlife. Watch hunter and biologist Chris Parish try to convince Lawrence Keane, vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, to support voluntary non-lead ammunition programs.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected a petition to regulate (not ban) the use of lead-based ammunition on Monday of this week, April 9, 2012. This petition has been highly controversial and polarizing, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) claiming that it is an attempt to end hunting. With the rejection of the petition, the NSSF and other groups that represent the ammunition industry have claimed victory. For those of us who understand how serious the lead poisoning issue is for wildlife – what comes next? Do we wait around for the Center for Biological Diversity to file their lawsuit against the EPA and hope that the results are different than they were in 2010?
X-ray of a deer shot with lead-based ammo
The reality of the situation is that the EPA’s rejection of this recent petition was no surprise. The EPA simply does not have the political willpower to address this difficult issue head-on. The real solution is hunter education. Why is it that the majority of hunters continue to use lead-based ammo? Because they are completely unaware of the extent to which lead-based bullets fragment when they pass through an animal. Most hunters have never seen an x-ray of the deer or elk that they harvested which contains, on average, 140 almost microscopic fragments of lead. By leaving their gutpiles out in the field, hunters are playing an active role in the ecosystem and providing a food source for a multitude of scavenging species. Most hunters have never seen an x-ray of this gutpile so they don’t understand that when scavengers feed on it they are getting a potentially lethal dose of lead.
X-ray of a deer gutpile containing lead bullet fragments
Let’s look at what happened in California when lead-based ammo was banned from use within the range of the California condor. This ban went into effect before ANY hunter outreach or education programs had been implemented. The result – a whole lot of angry and uninformed hunters who continued to use lead-based ammunition despite the ban. In recent years a number of individuals and organizations in California have stepped up with outreach programs that teach hunters about the detrimental effects of lead ammo use and the benefits of switching to a non-lead alternative. Would the ban have been more effective if these outreach programs had been implemented beforehand? Ask anyone involved in outreach for this issue in California and the answer will be a resounding, YES!
Expansion of a solid copper bullet compared to a lead-based bullet
So should we be disappointed that the EPA rejected this recent petition? Absolutely not. The education programs MUST come first. Hunters are America’s greatest conservationists and are very willing to switch to a non-lead alternative if they are given the facts about the issue and treated with the respect they deserve. Let’s compare the situation in Northern Arizona with what happened in California. While California was legislating a ban on lead ammo use, the Arizona Game and Fish Department was working on implementing a voluntary non-lead ammunition program. Every hunter who drew a tag on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona was given two free boxes of non-lead ammunition. A team of game wardens, biologists and volunteers then spent the entirety of the hunting season in the field, talking to hunters face-to-face about the issue. Within two years more than 80% of hunters on the Kaibab were voluntarily using non-lead ammo. If lead-based ammunition were to be banned on the Kaibab Plateau tomorrow, there would be no controversy, because everyone is already using copper. This is the model for how to address the lead ammunition issue on a national scale. Outreach and education FIRST – regulation and bans on the product can come later.
This is the REAL debate over lead ammunition. We need to stop fighting over the validity of the science behind fragmentation – everyone knows that lead bullets fragment and anyone who claims that these fragments don’t poison wildlife hasn’t read the scientific literature. The real debate remains – what is the most effective way to address the issue? I would argue that by focusing on hunter education rather than litigation, a great deal more will be accomplished.
*** This is the conclusion of my attempted interview with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a Washington lobbying group representing a variety of hunting organizations. A warning: there is some use of profanity below. ***
An hour passes with no phone call and I decide to head back to the office. I approach with camera rolling and reach for the office door; it’s locked. I knock on the glass and see a pair of eyes peer out from around the corner where Jeff’s office is. The situation seems so ridiculous to me that I actually burst out laughing. As comical as this scenario appears however, I’m also getting rather angry. I really did not expect Jeff to lie to my face like he did. I decide to remain at the door until someone is forced to deal with me. After about 5 minutes standing at the door knocking on the glass periodically my friend Larry Donahue (name changed here) finally appears.
Larry steps outside, careful not to let me into the office.
“Man, I’m not going to be able to get anything done today. He’s actually leaving for vacation tomorrow. But I’ve got some statements here, some on-the-record letters if you want to use these.”
“So there’s nothing… there’s no chance…” I stumble.
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
“Man… it just… it would’ve been nice to know this before I spent a thousand dollars flying out here…”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And now you understand that the organization you work for is going to be portrayed in a pretty negative light in this documentary.” I was pretty upset and started to ramble about what a poor decision it was for CSF not to participate. Larry could see that I was getting worked up and interrupted, “Come on, come walk with me and we’ll chat.”
Larry walks down the block away from the office and I follow, continuing my rant as we go. I pause and Larry starts to talk, mumbling at first, “Well I’m getting ready to leave so I can say whatever I want and…”
“You’re getting ready to leave… the organization?” I ask.
He nods and continues, “I don’t really know what the problem is, to be honest with you. Truth be told I don’t think it’s a f***ing problem and yet, I get f***ing overruled while you’re standing there and guess who gets to come have the conversation with you. I know that’s not worth f***ing s**t to you but, that’s exactly what f***ing happened today. I toe the company line because that’s what I get paid to do. The company line today was, I don’t have time. Bottom line is, I think I got overruled. If I were you, you know, I would just say f*** CSF, they had their opportunity and maybe they’re trying to hide something, I don’t know. I have no idea what the real f***ing problem is.”
He was angry, angrier than I was. We proceeded to sit on a park bench a block from the CSF office and talk about all the problems with groups like the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Federation, and of course the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation. We were both able to agree that these organizations no longer truly represent hunters in America. They’re so focused on lobbying politicians to support their industry that they have completely lost touch with the average folks who just want to enjoy the outdoors and get the opportunity to harvest an animal. Larry expressed his desire to start his own organization that would actually represent the interests of hunters and sportsman.
The conversation eventually digressed into a discussion about the excise tax placed on ammunition sales which funds quite of bit of wildlife and conservation research in this country. This, Larry said, would have been Jeff’s primary argument against restricting lead ammo use had the interview happened. The concern is that a transition from lead-based ammunition to generally more expensive alternatives would cause a decrease in ammunition sales, which would lead to a corresponding decrease in funding for wildlife conservation programs. This is the strongest argument that groups like CSF have against restrictions on lead ammo use. Unfortunately it is an argument that is not represented in our film, Scavenger Hunt, because we were not given an interview by the president of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, Jeff Crane.
When directing and producing our feature length documentary about California Condors (entitled Scavenger Hunt), securing interviews with representatives from groups like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Federation was a difficult and frustrating process. What follows is my account of a nearly successful attempt at getting some of these folks to speak on camera.
After the Center for Biological Diversity, among others, filed their first petition to the EPA to ban all lead based ammunition and fishing tackle, there was an interesting bill introduced into Congress. This bill proposes an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act that would exempt ammunition from regulation by the EPA. The Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation played a central role in creating this proposed legislation. The purpose of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation (CSF) is, in the words of their website: “providing access and a voice for sportsmen in the U.S. Congress, the Administration and federal land management agencies, as well as state legislatures across the country.” I wanted to ask the president of this organization why he thought ammunition should be exempted. I wanted to explain to him the immensity of support in the hunting community for a shift to non-lead ammo and ask him for his organization’s help in reaching out to hunters.
I was surprised by the prompt response to my email inquiry. Larry Donahue (name is changed here), a CSF employee, responded by asking who I would be most interested in interviewing. After some discussion, we decided that the best possible interview candidate was the president of CSF, Jeff Crane. We picked a date for the interview and I bought a plane ticket from Boise, ID to Washington, D.C.
Congressional Sportsman's Foundation Office
I arrived at the CSF office, only a few blocks from the capital building, promptly at 10am on the day of the interview. I was greeted by Larry and introduced to the president, Jeff Crane. The walls of Jeff’s office were covered with trophy heads – all African species. I noticed a photograph of Jeff smiling next to G. Dubbs (Also known as the 43rd president of the United States). While I unpacked my camera gear I handed Jeff a copy of our standard talent release form. Along the top of this form it read, “Project: Living with Condors (Working Title) A documentary about California Condor recovery.” Jeff commented, “This is your title, ‘Living with Condors?’” I explained that it was only a working title, but realized immediately that before handing Jeff this form he had had no idea that the documentary I was making had anything to do with condors. I had not spoken to Jeff before meeting him on this morning; the interview had been arranged by Larry and it seemed that Larry had forgotten to mention to the president what the focus of our project was.
George W. Bush with CSF President Jeff Crane
Jeff Crane's office
“I just need to have one of our assistants take a look at this form before I sign it,” said Jeff as he exited his office. My camera was set up; all I needed to do was clip the lavaliere microphone onto the front of Jeff’s shirt. I sat in Jeff’s office for approximately 20 minutes waiting for him to return. Eventually, Larry came in to tell me that a very important vote was about to happen up at the capital, and Jeff had had to run up there at the last minute. He assured me that we would be able to set up the interview that afternoon. I asked if it was okay for me to leave my camera gear set up. His response: Nope.
At noon I called both Jeff and Larry; neither answered so I left messages. An hour later, I left two more phone messages. At 2pm (my return flight to Boise was leaving at 5pm) I decided to return to the CSF office. After a phone conversation with my producer Eddie Chung, I decided that from here on out the camera would always be rolling. Whatever happened when I re-entered the office to confront Jeff Crane would be documented on tape.
I positioned my camera on the tripod so that when I rested it on my shoulder it was aimed down in front of me and entered the CSF office with tape rolling. The receptionist wasn’t there so I walked right towards Jeff Crane’s office and knocked on the open door.
“Hi Matt, I’m real sorry about this I’m just jammed. I’m getting ready to leave town and I’ve got to organize… I apologize on this whole thing…”
“Is there any chance I could have a half hour of your time?” I respond.
“I don’t have a half hour, that’s the problem. I’m just absolutely slammed on this thing right now, so um…”
“I hope I’m not making you nervous about the intentions of the documentary…”
“It’s nothing more than a time issue for today,” Jeff states.
After a few minutes of additional excuses and apologies Jeff says, “Let me do this… I’ve got your cell number, there are a couple of places just up the street, let me try to squeeze this in here either real soon or towards the end of the day… we’ll try to make this happen.”
I thanked Jeff and walked up the street where I found a table at an outdoor patio to wait.
I am happy to announce that our feature length documentary about California Condors, “Scavenger Hunt” will be premiering on the opening night of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) in Ithaca, NY on Thursday, March 29th. Choosing this festival as the site for our premiere screening was an easy decision because of my personal connection with the Finger Lakes region. I attended Ithaca College as an undergraduate and was dramatically influenced by the films that I saw at FLEFF. I graduated from Ithaca College with a double major in Environmental Studies and Cinema/Photography, and FLEFF provided me with the opportunity to see exactly how these two interests could be effectively combined.
The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival is unique among wildlife and environmentally themed festivals in that it places a strong focus on community development. The films that screen at FLEFF address environmental issues from a uniquely honest perspective that fits very well with our mission at Wild Lens. Our goal with “Scavenger Hunt” has always been to address the issue of lead poisoning from spent ammunition from the perspective of the hunting community. We understand that without community support very little can be accomplished, and this is why the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival is the perfect venue for the world premiere of “Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union.”
As of October 6th the film “Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union” is officially done editing! Thanks goes to our editor Pam Wise for all of her help and hard work. Work will now begin on sound and special effects, which we hope to have completed soon!