Lead Ammo Ban Proponents Avoid Science and Revert to Politics

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By Tom Pedersen

Pending Assembly Bill 711 would ban all hunting with lead ammunition throughout California.  Whether you believe the bill is the result of an anti-hunting agenda or a true concern for the environment, the path this legislation has taken should raise everyone’s eyebrows.  

Since at least the mid-1990s, some have opined that California condors feeding on hunter-shot game carcasses are poisoned by the lead ammunition present in the downed food source.  In 2007 and 2008 anti-lead ammunition activists, focusing on metallic lead in ammunition while ignoring decades of contamination caused by various soluble lead sources including leaded gasoline and paint, bypassed the California Fish and Game Commission’s scrutiny and passed legislation (AB 821) that prohibits hunters in California from using lead-based ammunition in a so-called “Condor Zone.”  

This push was justified in large part on a paper published in 2006 by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  As a result of litigation concerning these researchers’ failure to produce all of the underlying data related to that paper, however, they admitted that some of the data collected for the paper was deliberately not included in the data set that resulted in the conclusions published in the paper. The researchers would not specifically explain the omission, but a scientific rebuttal of that paper has been published outlining multiple flaws in both the methodology of the paper and the conclusions reached.  

And what does the data collected to evaluate the efficacy of the AB 821 lead ammunition ban in the “Condor Zone” experiment show? Condor blood-lead levels on average have stayed about the same or slightly increased since AB 821 was implemented, even though the evidence suggests hunters are 99% compliant with the law and are not using lead ammunition in the “Condor Zone.”  Yet again, instead of confronting the failure of AB 821 and looking at alternative sources of lead in the environment, the activists, many of whom also oppose hunting in general, doubled down.  Incredibly, they now take the position that the failure of AB 821 to not result in a decrease of condor blood-lead levels just shows that the AB 821 partial lead ammunition ban did not go far enough.  So now they are pushing for a statewide ban in AB 711.  

Of course, it is simpler to vilify lead ammunition than to admit that determining the cause of condor mortalities is a complex and often idiosyncratic endeavor, especially when the anti-lead ammunition campaign is one that AB 711’s sponsors have embraced, without true scientific confirmation, for years.  

The various ways that AB 711 has managed to circumvent the regulatory system has had a long and distinguished history. The Fish & Game Commission, entrusted by Californians to address the management and protection of wildlife, recently expressed serious concern about the “science” being used to support the alleged negative environmental impacts of lead-based ammunition.  So the Commission created a stakeholders group to evaluate the science being used for and against the condor-lead ammunition issue.  The proponents behind AB 711 responded to this opportunity for scientific evaluation by leap-frogging further commission review and succeeded in convincing a politician to propose a state-wide lead ammunition ban.  

AB 711 author Anthony Rendon, speaking from a prepared written statement in support of the bill, said that allowing hunters to use lead-based ammunition “is the equivalent of spoon-feeding lead to our children.”  There is no scientific evidence to support such claims, yet proponents of the bill have been willing to utilize what often amount to scare tactics and salacious headlines to distract the public from the scientific data. While baldy headlines may provide for emotional impact, they do obscure the importance of the issues in this bill and reduce the debate to an elementary level that does not serve the public interest in understanding the facts concerning this important debate.    

Lead ammunition ban proponents don’t want to lay their cards on the table about what the data does, and does not, say about condors and hunters’ use of lead-based ammunition.  AB 711 rewards the proponents’ efforts to hide behind faulty science produced largely at the public’s expense.  

Tom Pedersen is the retired Chief of Law Enforcement for the California Department of Fish & Game. He currently serves as the liaison on legislative and fish & game regulatory issues for the California Rifle & Pistol Association.