THOMSON, Ill. — The Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge stretches 261 river miles across four states and is home to some of the largest range of animal habitat in the United States.
Of that animal population, the American bald eagle inhabits a large portion of the refuge but over the course of more than 10 years, conservationists and wildlife experts have noticed something affecting the predatory bird.
In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the National Endangered Species list because the avian population saw a major boost. However, despite being removed from the list, those wildlife experts still keep a close eye on eagle population.
“We’re entrusted as a national wildlife refuge system. We’re entrusted with the conservation and management of species,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services district manager Ed Britton said.
Video: Ed Britton talks about lead poisoning in bald eagles at the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge
One thing that is seriously threatening the majestic predator is lead poisoning. While experts can’t confirm with certainty what is causing the lethal dose of lead in eagles, a scientific study conducted by Britton along with three other wildlife and contaminants biologists points to the use of lead ammunition as being one major factor.
Lead bullets are one of the oldest and most cost-effective sources of ammunition and although all metals are toxic to wildlife, small fragments of lead are particularly lethal.
During a public meeting Tuesday at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services district office in Thomson, Illinois, Britton presented this information to a group of hunters and anyone else who was interested in learning.
“The whole purpose of these informational meetings is to bring awareness,” he said. “If you’re a hunter, hopefully after you hear our story you’ll switch to non-lead ammunition. If you’re not a hunter maybe you have a friend or family member who hunts. Maybe you’re a land owner that allows hunting and we hope that you’ll tell the story and get them to switch to non-lead ammunition.”