Caja del Rio lead could taint wildlife, cattle, meat

Caja del Rio lead

The stock pond on BLM land on the Caja del Rio Plateau about 15 miles west of Santa Fe may not look like much. The mesa is dusty and covered with thorny cholla and tumbleweeds, but the stock pond is an oasis for waterfowl, migratory birds, including Great Blue Heron, and Gunnison’s prairie dogs live nearby and sip the water and feed on the grasses that grow on the muddy banks.
It has also been a popular area for target shooting for decades. The pond and dam are littered with broken glass and clay disks, pieces of bullet-ridden plywood, doors and other trash and, perhaps worst of all, spent cartridges and rifle shells that contain lead.
Many studies have been conducted on the detrimental effects of lead in the environment. The Center for Biological Diversity cites several studies that have found that millions of animals are killed every year in the United States from ingesting lead directly or from eating animals that have been shot or have otherwise consumed lead in the environment.
An article in the Española Wildlife Center’s February newsletter said the center recently received two sick bald eagles who were found to have lead poisoning and died soon after.
The National Institutes of Health studied cows that died from lead poisoning after grazing for five days in a shooting range. Apparently the lead weatherizes and gets into the soil and can then be taken up by plants growing in that soil and can be toxic to any animal that consumes it, and any animal that consumes that animal.
Cattle congregate near the stock pond at Caja every day for months, drink the water and eat the grass that flourishes in the more moist soil adjacent to the pond, an area that is used the most by target shooters.
This local free-range beef sells for a high premium price here in New Mexico, and it could be tainted with lead. This stock pond on the Caja is not the only one littered with lead bullets. There are dozens more on nearby Forest Service land, including Glorieta Mesa.
If you are worried about lead in the environment, what can be done? California banned lead ammunition last October. Perhaps our state should do the same.
At the very least, shooting in or near a water body should be illegal, because wildlife and cattle drink and feed here.
The State Hunting Guide states it is illegal to park within 300 yards of a manmade waterhole, so these shooters are in violation of a state law.
But it also takes a commitment from land- and wildlife-management agencies to enforce these laws, post signs, and fence off areas if necessary.
If you are worried about lead in the environment, contact your legislators, New Mexico Game and Fish, the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service and let them know.