New Hampshire’s loons need your help!

Advocacy alert: SB 224 is critically important legislation to New Hampshire’s loons. (Click on the links at the bottom of the article for more information and contacts.)

A fresh layer of snow blanketed New Hampshire this week, but rain arrived this weekend, and warmer days will follow.

In the spring, when the ice melts away from our lakes and ponds, the loons are among the first to return. Yet a persistent and preventable hazard awaits them.

Common Loon by John Rockwood. Courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee.

Photo by John Rockwood. Courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee.

Lead, a silent killer

The threat comes from lead fishing tackle, the largest contributor to documented adult loon mortality in the state, according to the Loon Preservation Committee.

New Hampshire lawmakers are looking at what to do about this silent killer.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is considering SB 224 . If enacted, it would strengthen current law, which fails to include jigs weighing less than one ounce but measuring longer than one inch. Sponsors of the bill are Senators Odell, Lambert, Forrester, and Carson; and Representatives Newton and Belk.

The Department of Environmental Services says SB 224 “would cover tackle that is the size range known to be ingested by loons.”

Supporters say SB 224 is critically important in helping to protect N.H.’s loons.

Loon mortalities in New Hampshire - Loon Preservation CommitteeFrom 1989-2010, lead fishing tackle caused the death of 119 loons, which represents 50% of the total adult loon mortalities for this time. And lead jigs caused 50% of the poisonings, LPC reports. (Click on the chart for a larger view.)

LPC comprehensively studied the effect of lead on N.H.’s loon population for the years 1989 through 2010. Formed in 1975, LPC does state-wide monitoring, research, management and outreach to preserve loons and their habitats.

“Lead fishing tackle is having a population-level impact on New Hampshire’s loons,” says LPC Senior Biologist and Executive Director Harry Vogel.

Loons are often perceived as an icon of a healthy lake. Because they feed at the top of the aquatic food web, loons are a biological indicator specified for contaminants in our lakes… If enacted, SB 224 would help to eliminate a pollution source that threatens the health of our lakes”  – Commissioner Thomas S. Burack, NHDES

Opponents to SB 224, including bass fishing advocates and tackle industry representatives, claim the science does not support changing the law, and the other threats to waterfowl are more significant.

LPC’s data, however, shows: “Lead has by far the largest impact in limiting New Hampshire’s loon population growth and viability of any currently quantified stressors.”

Opponents also argue the cost of fishing will go up if the law passes.

Threatened species

N.H. Fish and Game lists the Common Loon as a “threatened species.”

Population estimate: 550 adult loons.

Loons face multiple growing challenges: from domestic and wild predators, from loss of breeding areas to development and recreation, and from environmental pollution.

Lead poisoning occurs when ingested lead is absorbed into the blood stream. A loon with lead poisoning will die within 2 to 4 weeks after ingesting the lead tackle.

Taking action

In addition to legislative efforts to keep lead out of N.H. waters, environmental groups are active.

Locally, Lake Sunapee Protective Association offers a one-for-one exchange, a non-lead sinker for each lead sinker returned. And a 30-member, LSPA committee monitors loon sightings around Lake Sunapee and local ponds. The reports then go to the LPC.

“Get the Lead Out” is a statewide, summer campaign. LSPA, the Pleasant Lake Protective Association and the New Hampshire Lakes Association will again promote the effort in 2012.

LPC manages a program that provides artificial nesting rafts to loon pairs.

Yet in 2010, “despite a record number of nesting rafts floated by LPC staff and volunteers, the benefit to our loon population of our intensive raft program was entirely negated by just 11 pieces of lead tackle,” Vogel says. LPC staff and volunteers collected 11 loons that died from ingested lead fishing tackle in 2010. This was the highest number LPC has recorded to date.

The evidence is clear. Our loons need help. Lawmakers should close the loop hole in the lead-fishing-tackle law and adopt SB 224.

Click on the links to:

One Response

  1. [...] weeks ago, Sunapee News wrote about Senate Bill 224, an amendment to existing law that tackles the use of lead fishing gear known [...]

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