Assembly Bill 711 would ban all hunting with lead ammunition throughout California. Self-proclaimed environmental groups, largely opposed to hunting in general, claim condors feeding on game carcasses are poisoned by lead ammunition fragments, and are pushing this ill-conceived proposal through the Legislature to bypass the scrutiny their claims received from the Fish and Game Commission. The commission enacts hunting and fishing regulations, and analyzes scientific claims before taking regulatory action. This is the second time these groups have tried to skirt the commission’s review.
There has been a ban on hunting large game with lead ammunition in the California condor range since 2008, due to the passage of Assembly Bill 821. The same anti-hunting groups pushed AB 821 through the Legislature to get around real scientific inquiry into the source of lead poisoning in condors that was being conducted by the commission at that time. They promised that AB 821 would stop condors from being poisoned. It hasn’t.
Faced with AB 821’s predictable failure, lead-ammo-ban advocates then pressured the commission to expand the scope of the AB 821 lead-ammo ban statewide. But last August, the commission refused to expand the scope of the existing lead-ammo ban, citing the need for more scientific evaluation. At the August 2012 commission meeting, scientists critical of the lead-ammo-ban proponents’ claims showed that the incidence of lead poisoning in condors has not gone down, and blood-lead levels and mortality have actually increased! This is true despite California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s confirmation that 99 percent of California hunters are complying with AB 821, and have not used lead ammo since 2008. This strongly suggests an alternative source of soluble lead in the environment that is poisoning condors—something other than metallic lead ammunition.
After hearing the presentation last August, Commissioner Richard Rogers bluntly said “the science has got to make sense or else you’re not going to sell the rest of us (on an expanded lead-ammunition ban), that’s for darn sure.” Further, then-commission president Jim Kellogg admonished the lead-ban-advocacy groups to not cheat the process again by introducing a bill in the Legislature. Kellogg asked the groups to “allow us (the commission) the opportunity to try to make this work before you go to the legislature and get a bill going. That’s what rushed it through the last time.” Watch the hearing at www.huntfortruth.org/site/portfolio/video-1/.
Kellogg’s plea was ignored. Impatient lead-ammunition-ban proponents disregarded the commissioners’ requests to move the issue through its conventional scientific review and instead got Assemblymember Anthony Rendon to introduce AB 711.
Through the lead-ammunition working committee created by the commission at the behest of current commission president Michael Sutton, the department and commission are ready to investigate and settle the condor lead-poisoning debate based on facts, sound science and a full hearing from all stake holders. There are many questions that need to be answered. After an exhaustive public-records retrieval campaign, those records show that anti-lead ammunition researchers have hidden underlying data and worked hard to avoid public scrutiny of their publicly subsidized research. A recent paper (Finkelstein, et al., “Lead Poisoning and the Deceptive Recovery of the Critically Endangered California Condor, May 2012) concedes that AB 821 has had no effect on lead poisoning in condors. Nonetheless, the paper tenuously concludes that a total ban on lead ammunition is now appropriate. The unaddressed question: What is the source of lead that is poisoning condors?
To politicians, real science is too hard to study, or flat out is irrelevant. So despite proof that the existing lead-ammo ban has not been effective, and despite the fact that some of the key scientific papers used to justify the condor zone lead-ammo ban have been soundly debunked, the lead-ammo ban lobbyists persist in pushing their anti-hunting agenda statewide. But their ideological rhetoric, not sound science, is carrying AB 711. That’s how these groups got the first ineffective lead-ammunition ban passed. The same flimsy tactic is the basis for their latest assault on California hunters.
Tom Pedersen is the retired Chief of Law Enforcement for the California Department of Fish and Game. He currently serves as the liaison on legislative and fish and game regulatory issues for the California Rifle and Pistol Association.