Kim Delfino, California Program Director
Yesterday, we took one more important step in the effort to protect wildlife and human health from the toxic effects of lead ammunition. The California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee passed a bill, by a vote of 9-5, that would require the use of non-lead ammo for all hunting in the state, putting California well on its way to being the first state to enact non-lead ammunition requirements.
The committee vote came one day after the bill’s authors, Assemblymember Anthony Rendon and Assemblymember Richard Pan, stood on the steps of the State Capitol with a scientist, a hunter, a veterinarian and Tesla the golden eagle, to outline why it is critical for California to remove lead from ammunition used to hunt wildlife. “Lead is a toxicant that is bad for human health and the environment, and lead ammunition exposes humans and other animals to this life-threatening poison,” said Assemblymember Rendon.
Lead is a known toxin that we have already removed from everything from paint to gasoline to pencils to pipes. Fifty years of scientific research has shown that the presence of lead in the environment poses an ongoing threat to the health of the general public and the viability of the state’s wildlife, including the California condor, bald eagle and golden eagle. Dr. Don Smith, Professor, Department of Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology at UC Santa Cruz stated, “Lead based ammunition is likely the greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the U.S.”
Lead bullets fragment into tiny pieces when they hit an animal during hunting. These small lead fragments are then easily digested by humans as well as wildlife that eat the gut pile of dead animals. Animals also ingest lead when foraging in fields and pick up spent ammunition mistakenly. These lead fragments are highly toxic in the humans and animals that digest them. In humans, exposure to lead causes brain damage, learning problems and slowed growth and, for children, no amount of lead exposure is allowable. In wildlife, lead poisoning causes an agonizing death through paralysis and starvation.
Given the toxic threat from lead ammunition, there is no legitimate reason to oppose the use of non-lead ammunition when non-lead alternatives are available, effective and comparative in price with lead ammunition. As Assemblymember Mike Gatto stated in the committee hearing, “This is the right thing to do. We don’t hunt with poisoned darts for a reason and we shouldn’t use toxic ammunition for hunting.”
Former Fish and Game Commissioner and an avid hunter Judd Hanna testified in support of the bill in committee. Mr. Hanna was one of 27 distinguished hunters from California – including the current President and Vice President of the Fish and Game Commission – who sent a letter in support of the bill because they believe it is a reasonable and prudent solution to a public health and environmental threat. Defenders has been working on this issue for years, is a sponsor of this bill, and one of the organizations leading a broad coalition working to pass it. Now we’ve secured a majority of the members of the California Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee to vote to ban this toxic substance. Let’s hope the full California Assembly embraces the cause as well. Stay tuned.