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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Regarding "Get the Lead Out: Effort to Ban Lead Ammo in California Should Be a No-Brainer":

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.

Published in Community Voices

Lead is banned in paint, gasoline, dishes and children’s toys, and now California is looking at removing the largest unregulated source of the neurotoxin by also banning lead ammunition.

One motivation is to generally protect wildlife and human health, but some see it as a way to improve the prospects of California condors; lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for the massive, inky-feathered carrion eaters.

Twenty-six endangered California condors have died from lead poisoning since 1996. One recently notable lead casualty was a 9-year old bird in Big Sur that died last November. Even though lead ammunition is already banned in the bird’s California range, the source of the lead was a .22-caliber bullet, and he likely swallowed it while chowing down on a shot-up carcass.

Condor No. 318 was one of the first captive bred condors released on the California coast around Big Sur. According to the Ventana Wildlife Society, which studies and manages the central California population, he was one of only a handful of breeding males in the region—and the first to breed in Pinnacles National Park in 100 years.

In 1987, there were only 26 California condors, all in captivity. Now there are about 150 of the intensively monitored scavengers flying free in central California, Utah, Arizona and Mexico, and some are starting to breed on their own. But after years of extreme, hands-on efforts to rescue North America’s largest land bird, poisoning from lead ammunition in left-behind animal carcasses or in post-hunt gut piles is still one of the major problems preventing a self-sustaining population of wild condors emerging from the priciest species rescue in American history.

There’s strong scientific evidence for the connection between lead ammo and condor deaths, even though some groups, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, try to discredit it. And unlike with some endangered species, it’s easy to point to individual human actions (like loading that lead .22 round) that have real consequences for single condors in the sparse population.

After so many years and dollars have been spent trying to bring the condor back to the landscape, the question is: What will it take for people to change their behavior, and stop using lead ammo in the bird’s range?

California and Arizona have taken two distinct tactics. Arizona began a voluntary lead ammo reduction program in 2005, and in 2008, California rolled out a lead ammo ban for everything but small game animals in the condor’s range. Utah is following Arizona’s lead, as reported at Greenwire (subscription required). But condors in Arizona and California are still dying from lead poisoning. In California, a 2012 study concluded that as far as reducing lead levels in condor blood goes, the ban wasn’t effective, at least for the handful of years for which data exist. It appears that neither strategy is working very well so far.

Now a ban on lead ammo in the entire state, for all wildlife, is on the table in California thanks to Assembly Bill 711, and it’s currently working its way through committees on the way to the full Legislature. Critics say that if a lead ban in the condor’s range hasn’t really worked, why would a statewide ban work? Even the Fish and Wildlife Service’s California condor recovery coordinator, John McCamman, is on the side of voluntary changes. "I actually think it's more beneficial to have a voluntary program," he told Greenwire. "I think that at the end of the day, it's a hunter's choice. If they're educated on the issues, they'll make the right choice. Hunters are conservationists."

Beyond the reality that almost nothing is going to stop a handful of bad actors from making the wrong choice, copper ammunition has an image problem within the hunting community. It’s had a reputation for being more expensive than lead ammo; it’s been harder to find in a range of calibers; and some people question its performance.

However, as a 2012 Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences study found, those problems, whether real or perceived, seem to be falling away as the market for copper ammo has grown, and the technology has evolved. (I know hunters who switched to copper rounds because they think their performance is superior to that of lead—my household included, and here’s a Wisconsinite who was sold on it after an ammo demonstration day.)

Last year, the Ventana Wildlife Society received a lot of attention for taking an ammo-centric approach to condor conservation. The wildlife group spent $47,000 to buy and ship 1,246 boxes of nonlead ammunition to hunters in the condor’s territory. They had 400 orders within 48 hours of rolling out the program. In a report released last year, 34 percent of the people who responded to their survey said the program made them more willing to shoot with non-lead ammunition.

Here are some of the comments the group received:

“I am happy to see that we hunters and non-hunters can work together on these difficult issues. Thank you for your efforts.”

“I think it was a good way to break the ice. It shows me that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is.”

In an NPR story, the executive director of the Ventana Wildife Society credited hunters with “moving the needle in the right direction.”

At least the dialogue started by giving out free ammo is a sharp contrast to the rhetoric unleashed in response to the suggestion of a statewide lead ammo ban: "These people want to ban hunting. Go to their cocktail parties and snuggle up to them, and that's what they'll tell you," Don Saba, once a member of the NRA board of directors, told the San Jose Mercury News. "They characterize hunters as crazy rednecks, even as they talk about tolerance and diversity." (Never mind that lead was banned nationally for waterfowl hunting in 1991, and no one lost their shotgun over it. Those were the days.)

Given the conservation heritage that many hunters identify with, this shouldn’t be the us-versus-them issue that the NRA suggests it should be. What if conservation-oriented hunting and sporting groups were to acknowledge the amount of lead that generally creeps into habitats and food chains from ammo and fishing tackle, and take a courageous stance by actively promoting non-lead alternatives?

Copper will probably be the standard some day, but until then, a condor-sized part of our natural heritage is at stake.

This was originally posted at High Country News. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Community Voices