California Legislature Votes to Ban Hunting with Lead Ammunition
A proposal to require all hunters in California to use non-lead ammunition by 2019 has been approved by the California House and Senate and now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown. With strong support from several environmental groups—including California Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States—proposed legislation was approved in May by the California State Assembly and on Sept. 9 by the Senate.
If signed into law by Governor Brown, California would become the first state to phase-in a total ban on hunting with lead-based ammunition. The bill would do this by expanding an existing ban on hunting with lead ammunition in southern California, where fragments of lead ammunition plucked from carcasses and swallowed have killed many California Condors.
The California Condor is a critically endangered scavenging bird that once fed on the carcasses of mastodons and other creatures of the Pleistocene. Now, the birds often settle for the gut piles of deer and elk shot by hunters who fail to carry out the remains. Studies have established that lead bits in these gut piles are a leading threat to the existence of the giant, soaring birds.
ABC Opinion: Gov. Brown: California Condors Need You to Ban Lead Ammo
We encourage California Governor Jerry Brown to do the right thing for his state’s wildlife and in particular, the California Condor, by approving legislation that would phase in a ban on the use of lead ammunition. Though such a decision would clearly be a step in the right direction toward reducing lead contamination state-wide and will assuredly and dramatically reduce the number of wildlife species poisoned by lead, the poster child for this action is indeed the California Condor.
The numbers tell the story. There are about 225 of these birds left in the wild, and lead poisoning continues to account for 50 percent of condor deaths among the necropsies performed since 1996 by The Peregrine Fund—the organization that has been leading the recovery effort for the species.
In a perfect world, we could all accept as fact what hundreds of studies by well-respected institutions have shown: lead ammunition is responsible for the poisoning deaths of millions of birds in the United States annually. Importantly, other iconic birds besides the California Condor are impacted as well, such as Golden Eagles and many species of hawks.
The preferred solution is, of course, a voluntarily switch to non-lead ammunition. That’s something that all of us in the wildlife conservation community would applaud. And we do hope that a voluntary approach can still work in other states and communities where such programs are objectively viewed.
The problem in the case of the condor is that the switch to non-lead ammunition has not been happening fast enough. Clearly, something is broken when half the mortality of one of our most endangered birds results from lead poisoning—even in spite of Herculean efforts to round up as many condors as possible to test for and treat those that are lead poisoned but haven’t yet succumbed to it.
The hunting community has done a lot to promote better wildlife conservation over the years. And in that spirit, California regulators gave the voluntary approach a fair chance. Unfortunately, this approach wasn’t able to ensure the survival of one of the world’s most imperiled bird species. Let’s hope the Governor signs the bill and the state works out the few technical problems in the legislation. Those actions will no doubt save more condors—as well as the many other species that would otherwise be poisoned by lead.
U.S. Military Taking a Shot at Removing Lead from the Environment
The recent decision by the United States military to move to a non-lead version of their 7.62 mm bullet could prompt widespread voluntary changes in hunting practices, potentially saving millions of birds in the United States from ingestion of spent lead ammunition.
ABC has been encouraging the hunting community to voluntarily switch from traditional lead-based ammunition to non-lead alternatives based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that millions of birds are poisoned every year following ingestion of either shotgun pellets mistaken for grit or seeds, or lead particles left in gut piles following hunts. Among the birds most impacted are Bald Eagles, hawks, vultures, California Condors, and Mourning Doves.
The military’s voluntary conversion to non-lead ammunition will help blunt the most common concern about non-lead ammunition: the relatively higher cost of alternative forms of ammunition. “The quantities of ammo required by the military will no doubt require that producers acquire the new equipment to not only produce non-lead ammo, but also produce it in large quantities, possibly at lower costs,” said George Fenwick, President of ABC. “This is a game-changer because it shows the ammunition manufacturing industry that the non-lead market is increasing.”
The switch to non-lead 7.62 mm bullets follows another military ammunition switch in 2010, which converted the 5.56 mm to a non-lead bullet. This has resulted in the elimination of nearly 2,000 tons of lead annually from the environment. Future projections of the new non-lead round estimate that its use could result in an additional 4,000 tons of lead being eliminated each year from ammunition production.
Lead Makes Dove Hunting Doubly Lethal
September 1 marked the start of fall hunting seasons and the beginning of dove season across much of the United States. In an attempt to reduce the amount of lead poisoning in doves and other ground-feeding songbirds, ABC President George Fenwick has joined many community leaders in asking hunters to consider stocking up on nontoxic or steel shot.
Concern about the toxic effects of spent lead shot is greatest for doves because dove hunters can deposit enormous quantities of lead shot on relatively small areas. Unpublished data from the Missouri Department of Conservation show that on one public hunting area near Kansas City, 1,425 hunters reported firing almost 40,000 rounds of shotgun ammunition on and around 185 acres of managed sunflower and wheat fields, resulting in the deposition of approximately 2,500 pounds of lead on the entire area.
During 2011, hunters harvested 14.5 million doves nationwide, using approximately five shots per bird on average (assuming all hunters were using 12-gauge shotguns and one-ounce small game loads with #8 shot). This amounts to almost 30 billion lead pellets, or roughly 4.5 million tons of lead, scattered around managed fields designed to attract feeding birds.
Experimental evidence from captive Mourning Doves showed that virtually all doves that ate lead pellets eventually died due to the direct or indirect effects of lead poisoning. Studies suggest that 8.8 to 15 million Mourning Doves may die from lead poisoning each year—roughly the same number of doves legally harvested.
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