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A petition to ban toxic lead fishing sinkers known to kill loons, swans and other wildlife was denied last week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conservation, hunting and veterinary groups petitioned EPA in August to ban lead in fishing tackle and in bullets and shot for hunting.

The agency quickly dismissed the issue of regulating lead ammunition in September, based on legal technicalities.

In its recent decision on fishing tackle, EPA said that lead education programs under way in states “call into question whether a national ban on lead in fishing gear would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach to address the concern.”

“The sportfishing community applauds EPA's decision,” said Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association. “It represents a solid review of the biological facts, as well as the economic and social impacts that would have resulted from such a sweeping federal action.”

But Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “The EPA's failure to act is inexcusable, given what we know about how toxic lead is to wildlife and the extensive science linking lead poisoning in wildlife to ammunition and fishing weights.

“There are plenty of safe and available alternatives to lead products for these outdoor sports, so there's no good reason for this poisoning to continue.”

Wildlife is poisoned scavenging on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments or ingesting spent lead shot or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit.

Spent lead from ammunition and lost fishing tackle leads to the death of more than 10 million birds and animals a year, the petitioners said.

Washington state wildlife officials said that in 2011 they will be considering some restrictions on lead tackle at fishing lakes where common loons are known to nest.

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Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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