The BC Wildlife Federation said clubs like the Pitt Meadows Gun Club can continue to operate using lead shot, provided they manage the toxin. (Contributed)

Gun clubs need to get the lead out

Pitt Meadows Gun Club far from alone in dealing with the hazard of lead shot

Gun clubs across Canada need to get the lead out.

Vic Skaarup chairs the recreational sport shooting committee for the BC Wildlife Federation, and he has been leading the group’s initiatives to deal with lead, and the contamination of soils at gun clubs around the province.

Neighbours of the Pitt Meadows Gun Club took aim at the 70-year-old institution this summer, over decades of lead shot being deposited into the environment, and the increasing number of noisy shotgun blasts caused by increased activity at the club at 17428 129 Ave.

Shelley Vogel is part of a group of nine immediate neighbours who oppose the continued operation of the gun club, and will be pursuing the issue with city hall.

Skaarup explained that last year, the BCWF commissioned a study of best practices for lead management for gun clubs.

This review of literature found that lead from firearms can be managed, and gun clubs continue to operate without presenting a hazard.

“Lead is largely inert, but over time and with exposure it can start to oxidize,” he said, allowing that there is a danger it could get into surface water or groundwater.

He said the BCWF has a mandate to protect the environment used by waterfowl and other wildlife. To that end, clubs have to be proactive, and show that they are reclaiming the lead they shoot.

That might sound impossible, but in the U.S. – where the gun culture sees a lot more flying lead – there are private companies that will remove lead shot from soil at these shooting ranges. They remediate soils on a regular five or 10-year schedule.

Through his research, Skaarup learned the Clark County Shooting Complex in Las Vegas actually turns a profit through led reclamation and sale.

“Americans love to shoot – they’re the big wigs of shooting.”

So there is no need for BC gun clubs to reinvent the wheel, they just need to adopt the best practices that are being undertaken around the world, asserts Skaarup.

He said clubs need to show that they know the acidity of their soil, regularly test groundwater for lead, and that they are on top of this issue.

“The bottom line is, it’s something that needs to be managed. In Canada, we haven’t managed it – we haven’t thought of it.

But Vogel is skeptical that is possible, and that the gun club has more problems than just lead.

“Our concern is that the distances (setbacks) aren’t safe, the lead isn’t being taken care of, and the noise is too much,” she said.

She said the water table is high for farms to use irrigation ditches in the area, and the gun club is going to have a problem keeping lead out of the water on wet soil.

“I hope the city and the environmental officer who we just hired really take a good look at the lead issue,” she said.

The BCWF is really just starting its work on this issue. Having just received feedback on its best practices report from the provincial Environment Ministry, the federation is are about to hire and environmental engineer to address its recommendations.

The goal is a template for a shooting range lead management plan.

Skaarup suggested the federation may also buy the equipment needed to remediate soil, and provide that service to clubs on a cost-recovery basis. Because lead is heavier than soil, it can be removed through a sifting process.

His position is that remediation of the site for other land uses would be expensive – if it was to be re-developed for housing, for example.

To remediate the site so it does not present an environmental hazard is a lower standard, he said.

Lead is not so dangerous that it can’t be used for fishing weights, he pointed out.

“Go to your local sporting goods store, and you haven’t exposed yourself to a health hazard.”

Skaarup said steel shot has ballistic properties that make it undesirable for shotgun sports, and it can also damage the barrel of expensive firearms used by trap and skeet shooters.

He said lead is still the best option.

The BCWF sees value in gun clubs.

“Hunting, we believe, is an important part of conservation,” he said. “Some of the best environment stewards are hunters and fishermen, because they get engaged in the outdoors.”

He said properly licenced ranges are important, so hunters can hone their shooting skills.