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Poisoned Wildlife and Tainted Meat: Why Hunters Are Moving Away From Lead Bullets



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ZUMWALT PRAIRIE, Ore. — Aiming a rifle loaded with a copper bullet rather than the standard type made of lead, Chelsea Cassens fired at an elk from 70 yards away, hitting it squarely behind its shoulder. To avoid spooking the animal if it was only injured, Ms. Cassens waited several minutes before approaching as her father needled her skeptically, suggesting her newfangled ammunition might not have immediately killed it.

Moments later, Ms. Cassens, her father, Ed Hughes, and the three others in their hunting party descended on the fallen 450-pound beast, carved it open, inspected the internal damage, and found the spent bullet.

“Will you look at that!” Mr. Hughes said, pleasantly surprised. The copper bullet had expanded on impact, as it was designed to do, opening a gaping hole in the elk’s lungs and killing it almost instantly.


Across the country, state wildlife agencies have tried a range of tactics to encourage hunters to switch from lead ammunition. In Arizona, non-lead ammunition is free in some areas, and is delivered in bulk to a Native American tribe that lives near habitats with the most vulnerable scavenger species. In Minnesota, game wardens host shooting clinics for hunters to compare copper and lead bullets, hoping to show that lead bullets break apart in ways that make them more prone to contaminate the animals they kill.

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, lead exposure is the leading cause of death in California condors, the largest land birds in North America, which three decades ago were on the brink of extinction. And between 10 million and 20 million animals, including eagles, hawks, bears, vultures, ravens and coyotes, die each year not from being hunted, but from lead poisoning, according to the Humane Society.

Yet many hunters are reluctant to stop using lead bullets. They cite a range of reasons, from being unaware of the potential health threat or harm to scavenger animals, to having a stockpile of traditional ammunition they do not want to waste. Some also see the push away from lead bullets as a ruse for limiting gun rights or banning hunting more broadly. And many hunters question the availability, accuracy, price and lethality of non-lead ammunition.

Indeed, regulating lead ammunition has long been a hot-button point of contention among both conservationists and hunters. The topic was so charged, in fact, that President Barack Obama’s administration waited until its last day in office to impose a ban on lead ammunition on federal land. Just hours after taking office as the Trump administration’s new secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke overturned that prohibition in his first action.

Ms. Cassens, left, with her hunting party. Many hunters are reluctant to stop using lead bullets because they are unaware of their potential health threat or harm to scavenger animals.

And in California, the organization representing the state’s game wardens has pushed back against the impending statewide ban, breaking ranks with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and writing in a letter to the governor that there is “insufficient data to justify such a drastic action.”

About 95 percent of the 10 billion to 13 billion rounds of ammunition purchased every year in the United States contain lead, which primarily comes from recycled car batteries, according to industry estimates. These bullets are often jacketed by a harder metal like copper or steel.

[Read: Millions of weapons aficionados reload their own bullets and cast their own ammunition.][2]

Before starting the elk hunt, Ms. Cassens, 33, who has been hunting since she was 10 years old and had always used lead bullets, was joined by Leland Brown, an avid hunter and the non-lead hunting education coordinator for the Oregon Zoo. She fired both lead and copper ammunition into water jugs to compare the amount of metal fragments that splinter off during penetration.

A lead bullet fired from Ms. Cassens’ Remington .30-06 rifle, Mr. Brown explained, often sheds nearly a third of its original weight — more than enough to kill a bird if it consumed the particles.

Still, despite the growing evidence and legislative regulations, a nonprofit created by the firearms industry has challenged much of the scientific research into the risks of lead ammunition. The group’s website, Hunt for Truth Association, claimed that lead used in bullets is not sufficiently soluble to dissolve in most animals’ digestive tracts. If poisoning occurs in the wild, it is more likely from other soluble sources like leaded gasoline, paint, pesticides, landfills, mining tailings, or illegally dumped lead acid batteries, said the website, which was recently taken down.

Cameras trained on a dead elk in an Oregon preserve captured the many animals who feed on such carcasses. State agencies have urged hunters to stop using lead ammunition, citing devastating impacts on wildlife.Published On

Lynn Tompkins, who runs a bird rehabilitation center called Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, Ore., rejected those ideas. She held up photographs of X-rays of birds with lead bullet fragments in their stomachs, and said that roughly half of those she treats have lead poisoning. Often they are partly paralyzed and emaciated, she said, because the lead disorients the birds, making them incapable of hunting.

On a recent day, Ms. Tompkins fed a bald eagle with an eight-foot wingspan that had been rescued. It had a blood lead level of 813 micrograms per deciliter. Anything above 10 micrograms per deciliter is considered especially dangerous, and even 3 micrograms per deciliter can increase an animal’s mortality rate.

“I’m not opposed to hunting,” she said, “but we moved away from lead in gasoline, paint and plumbing and now we need to do the same with ammunition.”

Wildlife authorities have at times also been reluctant to embrace bans on lead ammunition for fear that forcing non-lead ammunition on hunters may cause them to stop hunting altogether. Revenue from hunting is vital to conservation programs, enforcement and research. Many wildlife officials are themselves proud hunters and do not want to contribute to the decline of this pastime, not to mention the practical role that hunting plays in conservation efforts like the one at the 33,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, run by The Nature Conservancy in Wallowa County, Ore.

Working with state wildlife authorities, the conservancy grants access to roughly 250 hunters each year as part of an effort to control the number of elks, who overgraze the land, destroying much of the aspen and woody shrubs that birds, insects, and small animals need to survive. When hunters arrive, they are required to check in with the conservancy’s staff and if they show they are using non-lead ammunition, they are entered into a drawing for cash-card prizes. Slightly more than half of the hunters have switched to lead-free ammunition.

The Nature Conservancy grants access to its land to roughly 250 hunters each year. If hunters show they are using non-lead ammunition, they are entered into a drawing for cash-card prizes.

Similar incentives are offered in Utah, where prizes in a raffle conducted by state wildlife authorities include new rifles and all-terrain vehicles for hunters who participate by either using non-lead ammunition or removing gut piles, the remains left behind after a hunter strips the animal’s carcass of its meat, which are often laden with lead bullet fragments.

Court battles over the regulation of lead ammunition have raged for years. In 2012, a coalition of environmental groups sued the federal government in a bid to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead bullets under the Toxic Substances Control Act. An appellate court ruled two years later that the agency lacked the authority to regulate bullets under that law. That same year, Mr. Obama signed a defense budget bill that included language prohibiting the E.P.A. from banning lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The use of lead ammunition has been equally controversial abroad. About a decade ago, 15 countries in the European Union had partial or complete bans on lead bullets. By 2017, that number had grown to 24, according to the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation. And last year, the chemical agency for the European Union proposed phasing out the use of lead ammunition across all wetland areas.

[How a vegetarian reporter spent a week with hunters.[3]]

For Ms. Cassens, the turning point came when she met Mr. Brown at the Zumwalt Prairie Reserve. He had a binder that she flipped through, a collection of X-rays that showed lead flecks in game meat that had been randomly selected and was donated to food pantries.

She said she feeds her two children and husband game meat most nights of the week, estimating that she saves at least $1,500 a year by not buying meat from grocery stores.

But the possibility of threatening her family’s health was too much.

“As a nurse and a mother,” she said, “I know that no amount of lead is safe to consume.”

Ms. Cassens and her family had grilled elk tenderloin for dinner during their stay at the preserve.

Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster



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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”


  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake



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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.


  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes



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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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