California has become the first state to enact a statewide ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting.
After California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 711 last year, it took four months for the California Fish and Game Commission to adopt the regulations of the bill. AB 711 created a statewide ban on hunting any game and non-game mammals and birds with lead ammunition. Studying and analyzing the effects—or lack there of—of lead ammo on wildlife has been a 30-year struggle between hunters and environmentalists.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studied the effects of lead shot exposure on waterfowl from 1983 to 1985. In those two years, evidence undoubtedly found that a large amount of diving ducks died from lead poisoning. This evidence resulted in a federal ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl in 1991. However, when you fully understand the research, the ban is due to the unique feeding habits and digestive system of waterfowl. The same facts cannot, and do not, correlate with upland birds such as dove, pheasant or turkey… or—as it turns out—the California condor.
The condor is the largest flying bird in the U.S. and one of the rarest birds in the world. They nearly became extinct in the 1980s. Poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction lead to the near-demise of the California condor. In the late 80s, only 22 birds remained. In 1987, California adopted the Condor Recovery Program and captured all 22 condors in order to save the species through a captive breeding program. The $60 million program—mostly state and federally funded—was successful and the condor was reintroduced into California and Arizona in 1992. Last year, activists counted over 435 birds.
The condor is a scavenger and feeds on the carcasses of larger dead animals such as cows, sheep and deer. In 2006, the University of California Santa Cruz published a paper (“Ammunition is the Principal Source of Lead Accumulated by California Condors Re-Introduced to the Wild”) on the study of the California condor citing that lead ammo was killing the giant birds. The paper sparked emotion in many wildlife, environmental and animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society and the Center for Biological Diversity. A campaign to end using lead ammo for hunting in certain areas resulted in a 2007 law. Assembly Bill 821 bans the use of lead ammo for hunting deer, bear, wild pig, elk and pronghorn antelope, as well as non-game animals such as coyote and squirrels in the area established as the “Condor Zone” spanning from San Jose in the North to Los Angeles in the South. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill, but it wasn’t enough for the activists’ organizations.
Fact vs. Emotion
Since AB 821 has been a law, there has been no proof that lead ammo is responsible for the condors’ fatalities. Studies show that despite a 99 percent compliance of hunters, there is no evidence that condors’ lead levels have decreased. And in fact, some condors’ lead levels have slightly increased. After some digging in 2010, using the California Public Records Act, the California Rifle and Pistol Association Foundation exposed the University paper’s fallacies. The University of California Santa Cruz openly admitted to omitting essential research in the 2006 paper. And what was so strategically left out? That much of the lead poisoning was coming from lead paint chips off an old fire lookout tower. Lawrence Keane from the National Shoot Sports Foundation (NSSF) said about the findings, “…as we have said all along, that condors in California are accessing lead from other sources, not ammunition.”
Despite having no solid evidence that the condors’ lead poisoning is caused by lead ammo, California Assembly member, Anthony Rendon still drafted AB 711—a bill completely banning lead ammo for hunting anywhere in the state of California. Rendon claims using lead ammo for hunting “is the equivalent of spoon-feeding lead to our children.”
California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 711 in October 2013, giving the Fish and Game Commission until July 1, 2015 to adopt the regulations. If basing laws on faulty facts and banning certain types of ammo wasn’t bad enough, there are larger consequences at stake.
The End of a Tradition?
The American Bird Conservancy, a group that supports AB 711, says, “Hunting will still be allowed in condor habitat, but only with commercially available non-lead bullets widely available for sale in California and by mail order.”
But that’s not entirely true.
Before public availability, the ATF must approve all non-lead bullets. The agency has an interest in projectiles made from materials other than lead because many non-lead bullets are made of brass—which incorporates the “legal definition” of “armor-piercing” ammunition per the ATF. Of course, petitions to the ATF to approve materials for non-lead bullets are caught up in the bureaucracy’s red tape. Further, non-lead bullets are much more expensive to make and, therefore, much more expensive to purchase than traditional lead-based bullets and shot.
The NSSF surveyed California hunters after AB 711 passed and found that nearly 40 percent said they will either have to stop or severely reduce their hunting due to the much higher costs of non-lead ammunition. In comparison, a box of Winchester .30-06 Springfield “green” lead-free jacketed hollow points retails for $29.26—nearly $1.50 a round! .270 Winchester and .308 Winchester is nearly double that. While a very good deer hunting round with a lead bullet, the .270 Winchester 130-grain Winchester Power Max is only $22.16 a box.
And “widely available?” Forget that. The Fish and Wildlife Service has an approved list of non-lead ammunition that has less than 40 manufacturers on it. Further, due to local restrictions in densely and highly populated Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco, ordering ammo by mail is nearly impossible—if not all together forbidden.
The NSSF report says the ban could lead to a loss of $20 million in revenue for the state.
The California Fish and Game Commission are implanting the law in three stages:
- On July 1, 2015, no lead ammo may be used to hunt in state run wildlife areas and ecological reserves.
- On July 1, 2016, no lead ammunition can be used when hunting with a shotgun for upland game birds, furbearing mammals, and non-game mammals and birds.
- A total ban on hunting with lead ammo goes into effect on July 1, 2019.
Assembly member James Gallagher has already introduced AB 395 that would repeal the ban. To support this pro-hunting bill, please visit the Firearms Policy Coalition.
What do you think about California’s ban on lead ammo for hunting? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.