Bald eagles: scientists decry overturn of ban that would save American emblem

The national bird is threatened by toxic bullets that wind up in the animals it fees, but the Trump administration overturned a rule to stop it

His head twisted virtually upside down and his body all but paralyzed, the bald eagle sat on its haunches, talons clenching, while two humans neared to put him in a cage. They could not save the bird from result.

The eagle was the third this year to succumb from lead poisoning at the Blue Mountain Wildlife center, in north-east Oregon, where Lynn Tompkins has helped rehabilitate sick and injured birds for 30 years. They eat things that have been shot, Tompkins said, whether its big game like deer or elk or coyotes or ground squirrels.

The poisoned birds suffer paralysis, dont eat and struggle to stand. As with mammals, lead causes blindness, brain damage and organ failure.

One of the most recent eagles, Tompkins said, had 622 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in its body, and a second had 385. The Center for Disease Control recommends immediate medical intervention for children whose blood tests at 45. Many birds, Tompkins said, exam at 5-10 micrograms, too low to present symptoms, but the same degree of leading seen in the children in Flint, Michigan.

The short answer is that no level of lead is acceptable for living things eagles, condors and people, said raptor biologist Glenn Stewart.

Bald eagles have rebounded across the US since 1972, when the government banned the pesticide DDT. But 10 -1 5% of bald eagles die during the first year because of result poisoning, Stewart said, in part because the young birds almost exclusively eat carrion.

An bald eagle that died from lead poisoning in north-east Oregon this month, after testing procured it had 385 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in its body. Photograph: Lynn Tompkins

Last week, virtually 30 doctors and scientists sent a letter to the department of the interior to strongly support the standard rules that Ryan Zinke, Donald Trumps new interior secretary, revoked on his first day in the post. The rule, enacted by the Obama administration on its last day, would have banned lead ammo across 150 m acres of national wildlife refuges.

It worries me to think about hunting and angling becoming activities for the land-owning elite, Zinke said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jonathan Evans, senior lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, a preservation group, said: We shouldnt be killing our national symbol because were too lazy or too concerned with past types of ammunition to switch. The National Rifle Association( NRA) has already been sued over attempts to phase out lead ammunition for hunting.

Biologists hesitate to estimate how many animals die from lead per year, but analyzes suggest the numbers are significant. A 2014 survey found that of nearly 3,000 eagles killed over 30 years, about 25% died from poison, most often lead. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who feed game meat tend to have higher levels of lead in their blood.

The science is overwhelming, said Dr Myra Finkelstein, a toxicologist who examines result poisoning in condors. The answer is so clear that I wish we could just attain the switching and protect human and wildlife health.

Every year, one in five condors suffers result poisoning so severe they need therapy, she said, and although the birds are the largest flyers in North America, a fingernails worth of lead can kill one. Result poisoning appears to have stalled the species recovery in the wild.

This has nothing to do with peoples right to hunt, she said. We took lead out of gas and out of home paint. That doesnt mean you dont drive a car or paint your home. Its about employing something thats safe for you and your family as well as an animal that comes upon it.

The solution, according to scientists and a growing alliance of hunters, is non-lead ammunition. Im a hunter, too, so Im kind of stuck in the middle, said Chris Parish, who called himself a redneck biologist with the Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit tracking raptors in Arizona and Utah. Parish and Leland Brown, a biologist with the Oregon Zoo and himself a hunter, was contended that hunters and scientists are natural allies to study, manage and preserve wildlife together.

Its not just good for the sport but ties immediately into the tradition of taking care of the landscape, of being good stewards for wildlife, Brown said.

Parish pointed to a small, voluntary program in Arizona and Utah that has managed to convince 87% of its hunters to either employ non-lead bullets or haul out contaminated guts. Do x-rays on carcass and show hunters the gut piles, he said. This is real conservation that induces sense.

But Parish said that politics have paralyzed many country agencies, hunters and scientists. The three groups should band together, he said, separate from government or political activists, and support programs that promote copper and steel ammunition.

Read all the politics you want, but heres the real dope. Heres what we need you do to, and heres a box of bullets to dedicate it try, he said. The condor could stand as a symbol of what were capable of , not just another endangered species program nagging you.

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