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Use of lead in fishing, hunting focus of proposed Minnesota Swan Protection Act

Taking another look at lead being used in fishing and hunting and its devastating impacts on native waterfowl, lawmakers could establish the Minnesota Swan Protection Act.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF3774 would create the act designed to protect native swans. The bill would prohibit the use of lead tackle in swan breeding waters, increase penalties for protection of the birds and appropriate money for a lead tackle collection program.

The bill was laid over Thursday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill, and to allow time for Hansen to work with committee members on the bill. There is no Senate companion.

“This is an opportunity where we can problem solve together,” Hansen said. “We’ve admired the problem for many, many, many, many, many years. I’m looking at what is possible here, asking for your help to see what we can do. There’s a menu of options here. Let’s see what we can do to get something passed, so we don’t have to be reading or seeing or experiencing these continual losses from lead of these iconic species of swan.”

Two species of native swans – trumpeter and tundra – would be protected under the act. Protection would not be included for mute swans, which are not native to the state.

The bill’s protections would include that “a person who takes, harasses, destroys, buys, sells, possesses, transports, or ships a native swan in violation of the game and fish laws is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”

The Department of Natural Resources would designate swan breeding waters and increase the restitution value for a tundra swan from $200 to $1,000 and from $1,000 to $2,500 for a trumpeter swan.

But a main focus of the bill revolves around the continued use of lead in fishing and hunting.

“Here at the Minnesota Legislature, we have been at loggerheads about the issue of lead, both in ammunition and in fishing, for a long time,” Hansen said. “We’ve heard testimony throughout this committee about no safe level of lead, but we use lead and we have used lead for a long time.”

Katie Smith, director of ecological and water resources with the DNR, said swans are listed as species of special concern in Minnesota.

Dale Gentry, a conservation manager with Audubon Minnesota, said swans frequently ingest lead fishing tackle and that one piece of lead is enough to kill a bird.

“The impact of lead on our environment and on trumpeter swans is undeniably negative and we know that restricting use of lead can have positive and measurable impacts on bird populations,” Gentry said.

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