New legislation introduced today would remove a persistent source of toxic lead from the environment by requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting in California. Assembly Bill 711 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, including co-sponsors Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States.
“We’ve removed lead from our homes, our gas tanks, even our children’s toy boxes, but we’ve failed to remove it from the lands that wildlife eat from, cattle graze on, or where rain can wash it into water ways that farms depend on,” said the bill’s author Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood. “The wide availability of affordable alternatives to lead ammunition makes AB 711 a common sense approach to protecting our precious wildlife and our families from the threat of lead poisoning.”
Toxic lead ammunition poisons endangered California Condors and other wildlife that eat spent lead ammunition when they come upon carcasses or “gut piles” left behind by hunters in the field. Mourning Doves also consume lead shot that they find on the ground. Predatory birds, including our nation’s symbol – the Bald Eagle – ingest lead when they eat prey species that have been poisoned.
Extensive research has demonstrated conclusively that lead from ammunition poses a threat to humans as well. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that people who ate meat from animals hunted with lead ammunition had higher levels of lead in their blood. Lead is a potent neurotoxin – and not safe for humans at any level of exposure.
“The more we learn about lead ammunition, the more we come to realize that it is just as much a public health issue as a wildlife conservation issue,” said pediatrician Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, Assembly Health Committee Chair and principal co-author of the bill. "Given the known damage lead exposure has on the brain, no one should risk feeding it to their families.”
Other legislative co-authors of the bill include State President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assemblymember Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield D-San Fernando Valley.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibited the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991, and California passed a law requiring the use of non-lead ammunition within the range of the California condor in 2007. But the problem persists because the earlier laws are limited in scope. Lead ammunition is still allowed in the vast majority of California, and it only takes a tiny amount of lead to have a devastating impact.
“Lead in the environment threatens to undermine the significant investment we’ve made bringing the California condor back from the brink of extinction,” said Dan Taylor, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “The time has long passed for California to take this simple step to protect all of our wildlife species.”
A study of the ammunition market shows that non-lead alternatives are readily available for nearly all calibers. Ballistics tests have shown that the non-lead ammunition matches and oftentimes outperforms lead.
“Fifty years of scientific research has shown that the presence of lead in the environment poses an ongoing threat to the viability of California’s wildlife such as bald eagles and golden eagles,” Kim Delfino, California director for Defenders of Wildlife said. “The time is long overdue to pass a law that broadly protects people and wildlife from this toxic threat.”
The toxic effects of lead ammunition continue to persist in California’s environment. A week ago, a bald eagle died from lead poisoning at the California Raptor Center at the University of California at Davis. In the same week, about 100 miles away, a golden eagle was picked up at a reservoir near Clearlake, Calif. suffering from severe lead poisoning, and is currently being treated at a veterinary clinic in Roseville, Calif.
“Lead poisoning causes a long and painful death for affected animals, including charismatic birds of prey,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Taking lead out of the environment is good science, and it’s also just the right thing to do.”
“Many hunters in California are already using non-lead ammunition because they have seen firsthand the risks to wildlife, and would rather be part of the solution,” said Henry Coletto, a hunter who is also a retired game warden and life member of California Deer Association. “As demand increases for non-lead ammunition, costs will come down and even more options will become available.”
(photo of Bald Eagle by mlamberson)