B.C. man calls for lead shot ban after hundreds of swans die on cross-border lake

Click to play video: 'More trumpeter swans killed by lead shot in B.C. border lake'
More trumpeter swans killed by lead shot in B.C. border lake
An Abbotsford resident is calling for lead shot to be removed from a lake on the Canada-U.S. border after the contamination has led to a recent increase in the deaths of trumpeter swans which populate the area. Julia Foy explains – Jun 19, 2021

An Abbotsford man has launched a campaign for a national ban on the use of lead shot after the deaths of hundreds of swans on a lake that straddles the B.C.-Washington state border.

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed 182 trumpeter swans died at Judson Lake over the winter, most as a result of lead toxicity.

The culprit is lead shot at the bottom of the shallow lake that the birds ingest while foraging among the roots of water lilies.

“It’s horrific to watch, they actually get paralysis, they gasp for air, they — I get choked up — it’s brutal to watch,” said Kevin Sinclair, who has filed an online petition calling for a lead shot ban with the House of Commons.

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“We get up to 800 swans on the lake, so you’ll see them out in the fields feeding during the day, but they come here at night because they’re safe from predators.”

According to Kyle Spragens with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the lead shot in Judson Lake is actually “legacy lead” — shot fired by hunters decades ago, before it was banned for hunting waterfowl specifically in both Canada and the U.S.

That, however, hasn’t stopped it from killing the swans.

Click to play video: 'Lead poisoning confirmed in death of two Saskatchewan eagles'
Lead poisoning confirmed in death of two Saskatchewan eagles

Because the lake is completely on private property, there is no government funding to get the lead out, he said.

Instead, officials have tried installing thousands of bamboo poles in the lake to discourage the birds from landing there — an initiative that resulted in an 80 per cent decrease in swan deaths.

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This year there were problems with the poles, and the number of deaths was significant.

“This past winter they said, ‘We don’t have money to do this anymore, and we’re moving on to other projects.’ Two-hundred swans died,” Sinclair said.

Spragens said the problem this winter wasn’t money, but rather low water levels in the lake that prevented officials from using a boat to replace and maintain the poles.

“This last year was, unfortunately, the perfect storm of bad situations,” he said. “There was no way to get the poles out into the lake.

“Underpinning of all that is that exclosure zone is just a short-term Band-Aid for something that we know is this chronic, persistent problem — the only solution is remove the old legacy, 30-plus-year-old lead shot.

“It’s not that we’re just standing by and just watching birds die, it’s a multi-million dollar solution.”

Watching those deaths, however, has motivated Sinclair to action, and he said the situation at Judson Lake is symbolic of the impact of lead shot in the environment across the country.

“Lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in Canada in 1997, but it’s still legal for upland game hunting, for ptarmigan, pheasant, quail, target shooting,” he said.

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His petition to the House of Commons cites an estimate of between 240,000-360,000 waterfowl deaths from lead poisoning in Canada every year and says it should be banned outright.

“Wildlife are dying all over our country because we won’t switch to non-toxic alternatives,” he said. “It’s long overdue to do this.”

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