The Interior Department said yesterday that it intends to broaden a ban on hunters' use of lead shotgun pellets, citing a new report that shows a sharp increase in the number of bald eagles dying from lead poisoning.
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, the ban will affect 30 counties in eight states next year, including five states that objected to Interior's earlier attempts to force hunters to use steel shotgun pellets.
If those states continue to object to the ban on lead, Interior officials said they will close federal lands in certain areas to waterfowl hunting.
A new report concludes that the rate of lead poisoning in bald eagles, the national symbol and an endangered species in most states, has risen sharply in the last few years. Since 1966, the department has attributed 89 bald eagle deaths to lead ingestion, more than half of them in the last four years.
Interior officials said they had planned to announce the expanded ban next week, but the decision came out yesterday when the National Wildlife Federation obtained and released copies of the department's study. The 30-county ban apparently is identical to an Interior proposal last February that the federation rejected as inadequate.
Biologists believe that eagles pick up the lead by eating waterfowl that have been killed by lead shot or have ingested stray pellets.
"These latest reports reveal that lead shot poisoning in bald eagles is far more serious than most wildlife biologists have suspected," Wildlife Federation official Jay D. Hair said. The group is seeking nontoxic shot zones in 30 states.