Jamie Rappaport Clark, President & CEO
Lead is a neurotoxin known to cause severe nervous system damage and even death in both humans and wildlife. Lead ammunition is one of the leading sources of this poison left in the environment. Lead bullets often shatter into numerous small fragments inside targeted game animals, posing threats to human health when consumed in game meat and also to wildlife scavengers and carrion eaters that consume gut piles of game animals that are left behind on the ground. There are cost-comparable, performance-guaranteed alternatives to lead ammunition in the market today. All of these statements lead to one logical conclusion: It’s time to end the use of lead ammunition for sport hunting in this country.
Fortunately for Californians, last week Governor Jerry Brown signed first-in-the-nation legislation that would do just that. The Governor’s historic decision is supported by thousands of citizens, a myriad of agencies and public health and environmental groups, nearly 20 newspapers from across the state, and the California State Senate and Assembly.
This new law builds upon a long-standing federal requirement to use non-lead shot when hunting migratory waterfowl and a recent California law which required the use of non- lead ammunition for hunting within the range of the federally listed condor in California. Condors are among this nation’s most endangered wildlife and lead fragments left behind in the carcasses of dead animals that they feed on have been a leading cause of condor deaths. Lead poisoning has become so serious for condors that they are frequently brought in from the wild to have lead removed from their blood, a painful and hugely stressful process for the birds that is not always successful.
While the federal waterfowl requirement and the earlier California condor law were important victories in the battle to eliminate an unnecessary source of lead from our environment, they were only the beginning of a long but necessary fight. Condors, bald and golden eagles and other skilled hunting birds have continued to perish from lead poisoning picked up from injecting hunting ammunition.
Thankfully, in California, as of last Friday, the state will be leading the nation in an entirely new, lead-free direction.
But while the major shift in policy on lead ammunition in California is a huge step forward, the task of ridding lead from the environment is far from over. The toxic effects of lead do not stop at state lines, so the elimination of lead in hunting should not end at California’s border. Governor Brown’s decision to get lead out of the Golden State has set in motion what we hope will become a wave of actions to eliminate lead ammunition from hunting nationwide. The federal government should follow Governor Brown’s example and end the use of lead ammunition for hunting on public lands, particularly on national wildlife refuges. The other 49 states should also pick up the cause and require non-lead ammunition for hunting on state and private lands.
With all of the health risks and environmental contaminants we contend with on a daily basis, why would we not do ourselves and wildlife a long overdue favor by removing lead ammunition from hunting? Long ago, we stopped poisoning ourselves and our children with lead paint, lead pipes and leaded gasoline, and decades ago we stopped poisoning the environment with lead shot when hunting waterfowl.
Governor Brown has done the courageous thing for the citizens of his state, and now the federal government and other states need to follow his lead and get the lead out of the rest of America.
Originally published in The Huffington Post