A federal judge in California has ordered the Interior Department to ban the use of lead shotgun pellets in parts of five states, agreeing with environmentalists that the lead pellets represent a threat to bald eagles, an endangered species.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Garcia granted an injunction sought by the National Wildlife Federation, which filed suit in June. The ruling would bar waterfowl hunting in 22 counties in California, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Oregon unless state officials agree to require the use of steel shotgun pellets.
In the past 20 years, at least 102 bald eagles have died of lead poisoning after eating waterfowl that had swallowed lead shot or had shot imbedded in their bodies, according to federal studies. Last year, 24 eagle deaths were attributed to lead poisoning.
The National Wildlife Federation represents millions of hunters and sports enthusiasts, but federation official Jay D. Hair said he thinks that the group's members would support the ruling.
"This decision is a major breakthrough for the protection of this endangered symbol of our nation," he said. "If the states act quickly to comply with the decision of the court, they will ensure that this season's hunting will start as scheduled."