CA state legislators agree that lead ammunition is too toxic to use, now we hope the governor will, too
Kim Delfino, California Program Director
What do the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Medical Association, Defenders of Wildlife and Children Now have in common? We all agree that we should not continue to allow unnecessary amounts of toxic lead to seep into our environment, into our wildlife and into our bodies.
This week, the California Legislature agreed with us as well. Both the California Senate and Assembly voted to pass AB 711, a bill written by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon that would reduce human and wildlife exposure to the poisoning effects of lead by requiring the use of non-lead ammunition when hunting throughout California. California is now one signature away from becoming the first state in the United States to require the use of non-lead ammunition in hunting – Governor Jerry Brown has until October 13th to sign the bill into law.
If the bill becomes law in California, it will be a substantial victory in the long fight to eliminate the use of toxic lead ammunition in hunting. More than one hundred years of scientific research shows that lead is poisonous to humans, condors, golden eagles and over 130 other species, having severe neuromuscular and neurological impacts that can lead to death. Indeed, a five-year review of the status of the iconic, but endangered, California condor recently completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found that poisoning from the ingestion of fragments of lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death among condors and the biggest threat to the birds’ recovery.
While the switch from toxic lead ammunition to non-lead ammunition would seem to make good sense, the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and other extreme organizations have created a frenzy of opposition by scaring hunters into thinking that AB 711’s non-lead ammunition requirement would promote an end to hunting in California. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no evidence to suggest that if non-lead ammunition is required for hunting, hunting would cease in the state. In fact, we have seen quite the opposite. When a requirement for the use of non-lead ammunition in hunting of big game in California condor range went into effect in 2008, the number of deer hunting tags INCREASED instead of decreased. Further, there are widely available non-lead ammunition types for every kind of hunting. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that not only are non-lead ammunition alternatives available and effective, they can be obtained for the same cost as their traditional toxic counterparts.
Even the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) – one of the leading proponents of hunting in California and a beneficiary of hunting revenue – agrees that AB 711 makes sense and will not inhibit hunters from engaging in their sport. Furthermore, in a letter to the bill’s author, Assemblymember Rendon, DFW Director Chuck Bonham stated that, “[t]he best available science related to wildlife health shows that spent lead ammunition creates the risk of lead poisoning for wildlife.”
Director Bonham requested three specific changes to the bill, including an additional year for the Department to implement the non-lead requirement, and with those three changes stated that the California DFW would “support” AB 711. The bill was amended to accommodate DFW’s request and, with those changes, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife became the first state wildlife agency to support a statewide requirement for the use of non-lead ammunition in hunting.
The bill’s requirement to use non-lead ammunition instead of toxic lead ammunition when hunting just makes sense. When there are safer ammunition alternatives widely available, there is no good reason for hunters to risk the health of their families by providing game filled with toxic lead particles, and there is no good reason for wildlife to suffer the tormenting effects of ingesting carcasses filled with toxic lead ammunition. Fortunately, California’s doctors, veterinarians, environmentalists, progressive hunters, animal protection advocates, Department of Fish and Wildlife and state legislature all agree. Now, we wait to see if California’s governor will join this large and diverse group to protect California’s people and wildlife from an unnecessary threat that we actually have the power to control.