California is making history with the nation’s first 100 percent lead ammunition ban to protect wildlife from lead poisoning. Starting on July 1, hunters will be required to use nonlead ammunition when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California.
The dangers of lead as a toxin for humans are widely known. That is why lead is banned in everything from paint to toys to gasoline. But lead also poses an insidious threat to wildlife – particularly birds. Lead ammunition, when consumed in carcasses by carrion-eating birds can cause sickness and death, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. We’ve seen it devastate waterfowl populations, drive the California Condor to the brink of extinction, and threaten our national bird, the Bald Eagle.
"Lead ammo kills birds long after being fired from a gun,” said Andrea Jones, Audubon California's Director of Conservation. “Banning toxic ammunition and fishing tackle in wildlife refuges is necessary for their long term survival as well as our own health.”
In 1991, the federal government banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting because the toxic material was seen as the cause of population-level declines. Those populations have bounced back since then.
But the 1991 ban didn’t come close to addressing the full scale of the problem for wildlife. Lead ammunition affects upland game, such as Mourning Doves, and poses a unique challenge for raptors, such as condors, eagles, hawks, and owls. While the game birds tend to eat shot and other fragments off the ground, raptors consume lead ammunition left behind in carcasses by hunters. This poisoning from lead ammunition has long been considered a major obstacle for the recovery of the California Condor, and it is a common source of mortality for other raptors.
Audubon California has long been active in the effort to remove the dangers of lead in the environment, particularly from spent lead ammunition. With the help of our legislative and conservation partners, we passed legislation (Assembly Bill 821) in 2007 eliminating the use of lead ammunition in the range of the California Condor.
In 2013, Audubon California joined a broad coalition of organizations that successfully passed legislation requiring the use of nonlead ammunition for hunting in California by 2019. This bill was co-sponsored by Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States.
A joint statement from leading researchers in the field of lead toxicity endorsed the bill, saying "based on overwhelming evidence for the toxic effects of lead in humans and wildlife, even at very low exposure levels, convincing data that the discharge of lead-based ammunition into the environment poses significant risks of lead exposure to humans and wildlife, and the availability of non-lead alternative products for hunting, we support reducing and eventually eliminating the introduction of lead into the environment from lead-based ammunition."
Looking for lead-free ammunition? Hunters can purchase nonlead ammunition in most local gun stores and sporting goods retailers. If your bullet size, caliber or gauge is unavailable, most retail stores will special order ammunition. See California Department of Fish and Wildlife's list of certified non-lead ammunition and FAQs on the ban.