Summary of Current Lead Ammunition Regulations in California:
On July 1, 2008 regulations went into effect for big game hunting and nongame hunting in areas of California that are designated as California condor range. The two key provisions of the 2008 prohibition are California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 353 which prohibits the use of projectiles containing lead for hunting deer, bear, wild pig, elk, and pronghorn antelope in California condor ranges and Title 14, Section 475 which bans the use of lead projectiles for hunting coyotes, ground squirrels, and other non-game wildlife in the same areas.
The Scope of the Prohibition Imposed in Condor Ranges:
Under California's regulations hunters are not only prohibited from using lead ammunition, but are also prohibited from possessing lead projectiles and firearms capable of firing lead ammunition within designated condor ranges.
The ban applies both to recreational sport and game hunters and to landowners, ranchers and farmers with depredation permits to hunt species that damage crops and property.
Where Lead Ammunition is Prohibited:
Sections 353 and 475 do not impose a statewide lead ammunition ban and only restrict the use of lead ammunition within designated condor ranges. These areas are described in the AB 821-Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act (Nava) and can be found at Fish and Game Code section 3004.5. The map below shows designated condor ranges which includes deer hunt zones D7, D8, D9, D10, D11, D13 and most, although not all, of the South A zone.
Lead Ammunition Bans Preexisting Sections 353 and 475:
Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre working ranch located north of Los Angeles was first major private wildlife management program in the state to require the use of non-lead ammunition. While Tejon Ranch's voluntary ban has be touted as a historic event, effective January 1, 2008, just seven months before the larger condor area ban went into effect, Tejon Ranch's prohibition was seen by some as an attempt to garner publicity. More than 1,800 hunters come to Tejon Ranch each year to hunt deer, elk, antelope, wild pigs, wild turkey, coyotes, squirrels, pigeons, doves, and quail.
The Genesis and Subsequent Failure of Lead Ammunition Bans in California
Assembly Bill (AB) 821 was passed out by the California Legislature on September 5, 2007 and enrolled September 10, 2007. Just after the Concord Fish and Game Commission hearing, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 821 on October 13, 2007 which banned the use of lead centerfire ammunition while hunting big game in the condor range. (See above for information on the two key provisions of the prohibition which was enacted in 2008: Title 14, Section 353 and Title 14, Section 475). The bill was predicated and passed on its proponents’ assurances that hunters’ lead ammunition was the cause of lead related toxicities and deaths in California condors. The public was expressly told that established science regarding the nexus between lead ammunition and lead poisoning in California condors was well settled. Further, the pubic was informed that the lead ban could no longer wait for the California Department of Fish and Game (Department) to independently and scientifically study the issue. Moreover, the public was told that it was an emergency, and in order to save the condors AB 821 had to be put into effect immediately.
Since the passage of AB 821, the California Department of Fish and Game wardens have surveyed the types of ammunition used by hunters in condor range during hunting season, where the use of lead ammunition was banned. The Department’s survey determined that 98.89% of all hunters were found to be complying with the lead ammunition ban. Thus, if hunters’ lead ammunition was the cause of lead poisoning in California condors, the passage of AB 821 and the corresponding 98.89% hunter compliance should have resulted in a 98.89% decrease in lead exposure in condors. However, the 2009 condor blood lead data, collected by the condor recovery team in California, clearly shows that the incidence of lead exposure and toxicity in condors actually increased slightly, and in addition, two condors allegedly died of lead poisoning. Furthermore, the 2010 and 2011 condor blood lead data continues to show a slight increase in lead exposure in condors compared to the year 2007, before the AB-821 ban was passed.
Hunt for Truth believes that the combination of: 1) the 2009, 2010, and 2012 blood lead data; 2) the passage of AB 821, and; 3) the Department's evidence of 98.89% hunter compliance with the lead ban, strongly indicate that hunters’ ammunition is not the cause of lead exposure and toxicity in condors and alternative sources of lead are to blame.
Consequently, AB 821 is a failure. It was hastily enacted on an illusory emergency basis in order to deliberately circumvent rigorous scientific inquiry by the Department into the primary source of the lead poisoning condors. Overlooking alternative sources of lead exposure such as microtrash, lead-based paint, and lead ridden cattle fed to the fledgling condor population as part of reintroduction initiatives, it does not address the sources of lead poisoning California condors.
On June 29, 2010, a bill that would have banned hunters from using lead shot in state wildlife areas was killed in committee. AB 2223 was defeated by a 4-3 vote in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. There are 667,000 acres in the Department of Fish and Game-managed network of wildlife areas. In most of the state’s wildlife areas, hunters are currently allowed to use lead shot to hunt small game like rabbit, quail, turkey, dove and pheasant.
The bill had passed the state Assembly the previous month on a party-line vote with Assembly Republicans like Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, voting against it and Democrats like Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, voting for it. It was then sent to the Senate, and was first heard in the Senate committee on June 22, 2010. It failed to get enough votes to get out of committee at that time, but was granted reconsideration by Chairwoman Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) and so came back before the committee on June 29.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) opposed the bill in the Assembly, and presented evidence against the ban. NRA/CRPA lawyers also submitted a letter to the Committee Record expressing opposition to AB 2223. A number of other hunting and self-defense civil rights groups also opposed the bill.
Assemblyman Pedro Nava and other proponents of lead ammo bans used flawed logic and manipulated studies to advance their claims. Claiming that predatory animals consume lead pellets when eating downed game that has been shot but lost by hunters, proponents attempted to establish a purported relationship between traditional lead ammunition and lead poisoning in California condors as justification to pass AB 2223.
This alleged relationship between lead ammo and condor poisoning was a driving factor in the passage of AB 821 in 2007, which banned the use of lead centerfire ammunition while hunting big game in the condor range.
Since at least 2002, the Hunt for Truth and like-minded conservationists have raised legitimate and serious questions about the purported relationship between the use of traditional lead ammunition and lead poisoning in California condors that activists touting faulty science claim exists.