A bill that would ban the use of lead ammunition by all hunters throughout California awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. There’s no question that he should sign AB 711 into law. It’s smart, it’s measured and it protects animals and people from potential lead poisoning from animal meat.
Let’s start with the most compelling reason to do this: Lead is toxic to every living thing -- humans, other mammals, birds.
A consensus statement signed by 30 leading researchers and published in the journal Environmental Health and Perspectives says “lead-based ammunition is likely the greatest largely unregulated source of lead that is knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States.”
There is already a federal ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting waterfowl. And since 2008, the use of lead ammunition has been banned in the range of the California condor. Of course, no one is allowed to hunt condors. But condors scavenge the carcasses of dead animals, including those that have been hunted. If those animals were shot with lead ammunition, then the condors end up ingesting lead-tainted flesh.
When hunters field dress their kill and leave behind what they don’t want, other animals feast on the remains -- but risk being poisoned by the shards of lead ammunition in the carcasses.
Some opponents have argued this bill is a way to curb hunting in California, by forcing hunters to buy more expensive non-lead shells and bullets. It’s not. First of all, the prices of non-lead ammo have come down as more hunters use it. Second, even if non-lead ammo is more expensive, that’s the price that has to be paid to keep everyone safer, including hunters. (The unleaded gas in your car is more expensive than the leaded gas you used to buy.)
The National Park Service reports on its website that studies have shown that wild game meat consumed by humans can sometimes be tainted with lead as well. And ammunition is just a small percentage of the total cost of outfitting yourself as a hunter.
This bill is sponsored by a trio of animal and environmental protection organizations: the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon California.
But it’s also got support from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and many hunters. A group of 25 hunters signed a letter last spring endorsing it and noting that the continued use of lead ammunition in light of its risks to wildlife and public health “is at odds with the proud tradition of responsible hunting stewardship.” Among the signers is Michael Sutton, president of the California Commission on Fish and Game, and Richard Rogers, the commission's vice president.
Lead ammo can still be used at shooting ranges. This will just ban it in the field. And the state will have until 2019 to put the ban fully into effect.
There’s no reason for this not to be the law in California. It protects everyone.