Aldo Leopold, often referred to as the father of wildlife management, wrote,“ The real substance of conservation lies not in the physical projects of the government, but in the mental processes of its citizens …all the acts of government, in short, are of slight importance to conservation except as they affect the acts and thoughts of citizens.”
The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is now in the midst of a campaign to affect the acts and thoughts of one group of Vermonters--angler--and the Department has found some terrific partners in this endeavor.

Evidence collected in recent years has pointed to a strong connection between the use of lead fishing sinkers and the health of waterfowl such as the common loon. Because the loon is not common in Vermont, with fewer than three dozen breeding pairs statewide, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is concerned about the effects of lead sinkers on this magnificent bird. Autopsies have revealed that 8 of 15 loons found dead between 1989 and 1998 died of lead poisoning.

The Fish and Wildlife Department is participating in statewide and regional efforts to reduce the use of lead fishing sinkers. While nearby states like New Hampshire and Maine passed legislation prohibiting the use of lead sinkers in certain conditions, Vermont has taken a path of personal responsibility. The Department has joined a partnership to provide both information and free samples of lead-free sinkers to jump start Vermont anglers’ switch to a less harmful sinker. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Federation, Vermont Institute of Natural Science, and Vermont Audubon coordinated the campaign to replace lead sinkers in Vermont tackle boxes. Programs included lead-free sinker exchanges at various events, including free fishing day activities at Department hatcheries, kids’ fishing derbies, and at various state fishing access areas throughout the state.

However, no agency effort captured the local flavor and individual responsibility like that of Alyssa Borowske and Brittany Moffatt, two Cadette Girl Scouts from Barre. Both Alyssa and Brittany developed a Silver Award service project intended to educate the public about the dangers of lead sinkers to loons and other bottom-feeding waterfowl, and to encourage anglers to replace their lead sinkers with lead-free varieties.

The two girls developed a three-pronged approach to their project. First, they worked with Barre Town School art teacher Lynn Spencer to have schoolchildren make their own loon and lead-free sinker posters. Lynn taught the children about loons and fishing sinkers while each child drew pictures onto posters that Alyssa and Brittany had prepared with messages about the issue. Each of the 350 children went home with their posters, a lead-free sinker cup, and an informational flyer provided by the Fish and Wildlife Department. The second activity was an art contest for Barre City School students to make their own loon and lead-free sinker awareness posters. Art teacher Kate Hawley worked with the two girl scouts to administer this event.

Finally, the two scouts worked with the Barre Fish and Game Club to provide lead-free sinkers at the club’s annual Gunner Brook Fishing Derby. Alyssa and Brittany had written to several commercial producers of sinkers seeking assistance and received 200 sample packets of lead-free sinkers from one manufacturer. The packets were used by the kids participating in the derby, and also exchanged for lead sinkers from participants’ tackle boxes. The scouts collected eight pounds of lead sinkers.

Alyssa’s and Brittany’s Silver Award Service project helped educate many in their community about loons and the use of lead-free sinkers. More important, however, the two young scouts demonstrated that conservation lies in the hearts and minds of Vermont’s citizens.

To learn more about the dangers of lead sinkers, please visit or contact the Nongame and Natural Heritage Program at (802) 241-3700.