New legislation seeks to protect California’s people and wildlife from threat of lead from ammunition

Golden Eagle
Chuq Von Rospatch

In an effort to protect both wildlife and people from the dangers of lead poisoning, Audubon California has joined with the Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife to co-sponsor legislation that would require the use of nonlead ammunition for all hunting in California. Assembly Bill 711, introduced in March, already has the backing of several key members of the State Legislature, as well as a growing number of hunters and conservation, animal protection and public health organizations.

This is going to be an uphill battle, and we'll need your help to see it through. Sign up for action alerts from Audubon California, and we'll send you periodic emails letting you know how you can help.

Scientists agree that lead ammunition still threatens the California Condor, Golden Eagle and other protected species. Similarly, one in five free-flying condors has ingested such significant levels of lead from these sources that they are at risk of dying from lead poisoning. In fact, the leading cause of death for adult California Condors is not old age - it's lead poisoning. 

In 2007, Audubon California was part of a coalition that succeeded in requiring the use of nonlead ammunition throughout the condor range. While this law has been successful in decreasing overall blood lead levels and cases of toxicosis in wildlife, it isn't enough. Just last year, a study published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that unless lead ammunition is removed from the environment entirely, the California Condor won't survive on its own. It only takes a tiny amount of lead to poison animals, causing immense suffering before killing them.

Additional research has also concluded that lead from ammunition poses a significant threat to people, as well. Because lead shatters upon impact, meat from animals shot by hunters using lead ammunition often contains tiny fragments of lead that are ingested by humans and other animals.

In late March, thirty leading scientists who have firsthand knowledge of the both the wildlife and public health impacts of lead from ammunition signed a letter agreeing that the threat from this source means that it is time to eliminate this source of lead from our environment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991 began to require the use of non-lead ammunition like steel and copper for hunting ducks and geese across the United States and the National Park Service in 2009 announced the goal of eliminating the use of lead ammunition.

Nonlead ammunition is already widely available in California, and many thousands of hunters here are already using it. Assembly Bill 711 proposes to phase in the non-lead requirement over a two-year period after allowing the Fish and Game Commission six months to develop a plan for that phase-in that mitigates the impact on ammunition manufacturers, retailers and hunters.

Research links:

Lead poisoning and the deceptive recovery of the critically endangered California Condor

Impact of the California Lead Ammunition Ban on Reducing Lead Exposure in Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures

Patterns Of Mortality In Free-Ranging California Condors (Gymnogyps Californianus)

Sources and implications of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on natural resources (Wildlife Society) 

Blood lead levels and lead ammunition -- results of North Dakota/CDC study

Minnesota study into lead ammunition fragmentation and venison

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