A bill that would ban all lead ammunition for hunting statewide by 2019 — making California the first state to do so — has passed the State Legislature and is sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
The bill, officially known as AB 711 and cosponsored by Assemblymember Das Williams of Santa Barbara, would see the state’s Fish and Game Commission set regulations by July 1, 2015, that phase in the use of non-lead bullets for all hunting. The requirements would be implemented by July 1, 2019.
“I don’t see any reason for the governor not to sign this,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It protects wildlife, it protects human health, and the last five years of hunting that have occurred in Central and Southern California — all using copper and non-lead ammunition — have shown that hunters can transition to non-lead ammunition without changes to hunting. We know hunters can continue to hunt using non-lead ammunition.”
Since 2008, lead ammunition has been illegal in the condor ranges in Central and Southern California. In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned lead ammunition in the hunting of waterfowl, making way for more than a dozen lead-free ammunition types available across 35 calibers and 51 rifle cartridge designations.
Jerry Payne, the owner of Far West Gun and Supply in Santa Barbara, noted that because most ammunition available now has a lead base, this bill’s passage would be “pretty dramatic.”
“Lead ammunition has been used for almost 100 years, and it’s been very effective,” Payne said. “Nontoxic ammunition, for lack of a better name, is relatively new.”
Earlier this year, a team of scientists, doctors, and public health experts released a statement through the University of California’s online publication system decrying lead’s toxic effects on humans and wildlife and wondering why lead ammunition — in their estimation, the biggest source of lead added to the environment — is still legal when products like paint, gasoline, and kids’ toys have become lead-free. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, lead is hazardous to people and animals at any level, as poisoning can impair growth, inflict neurological damage, and cause death.
Miller explained that lead ammunition is not only severely toxic to condors but also harms other wild animals. Scavengers and predators, he said, are poisoned when eating carcasses and prey contaminated with the bullets. Birds, he added, also frequently mistake the lead shots as the grit they need for their digestion.
“We are taking responsibility,” Williams said, explaining his support of the bill. “And I think having the things that we hunt with not poison other creatures is sort of just a basic step in being responsible.”
Last year, California had more than 247,000 licensed hunters, said Jordan Traverso, the deputy director of communications for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The compliance rates for the lead ban currently in play in the condor range has been “very high,” Traverso added. Speaking to opponents of the bill, who voiced concern that the market could run low of non-lead alternatives, Traverso said that the five years between the bill’s passing and its full implementation should be enough time for the market to adjust.
The bill directs that if sufficient funding is available, the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission would establish a process to give hunters non-lead ammunition for free or at a reduced price.