Ventura, California—In a victory for hunters and sport shooters, on August 8, 2012, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) rejected a proposal to expand the existing ban on the use of lead ammunition that applies to hunting in certain parts of California. The proposal would have expanded the existing ban on the use of lead ammunition, now applicable only in the limited “Condor Zone” created by AB 821, to also include State Wildlife Areas, Ecological Reserves, and depredation hunts.
The lead ammunition ban proponents urged the Commissioners to put the proposed expansion out “to notice” for official public comment, a prerequisite step toward getting it formally adopted. Their arguments are based on recent publications created by researchers at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. National Rifle Association (NRA) and California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) representatives, scientists, and lawyers opposed the proposal. Their presentation can be heard here
Specifically, two recent studies published by UC Davis researchers Terra R. Kelly and Christine K. Johnson purport to show that golden eagles and turkey vultures have significantly higher blood-lead levels during hunting season, in comparison to the off-season, and that lead exposure in both species declined significantly after the implementation of the AB 821 lead ammunition ban. But the UC Davis researchers’ methodology behind their publications was so flawed that their conclusions are unreliable.
Proponents also relied on a study by UC Santa Cruz researchers Myra Finkelstein and Donald Smith, who recently published a paper that admitted that the AB 821 ban on hunters’ lead ammunition in the “Condor Zone” did nothing to reduce condor blood-lead levels! Nonetheless, they insist that their research supports their conclusion that condor lead exposure and poisoning is due to hunters’ use of lead ammunition. The UC Santa Cruz researchers’ latest publication claims to show that isotopic ratios of lead found in the blood of condors matched the isotopic ratios of lead found in ammunition. But that publication also relied on the discredited isotopic compositional analysis technique to claim that the isotopic ratios of lead from the captive condors fall within background range of lead in the California environment, while free-flying condors had lead isotopic ratios that more closely matched hunters’ lead ammunition. Any conclusions based on the use of that discredited technique are unreliable.
The NRA’s presentation anticipated and addressed the arguments raised by proponents of expanding the lead ammo ban. Through an extensive investigation, the NRA obtained and analyzed tens of thousands of pages of public records and data. In preparation for their presentation, the NRA and CRPA representatives analyzed the public records and data, as well as peer-reviewed papers including the UC authors’ publications. These efforts showed that the most recent study was based on data that was “cherry picked” to reach pre-conceived conclusions. In fact, the researchers’ conclusions in their own prior publications contradicted their most recent conclusions regarding the isotopic ratio range for lead in paint, a known source of lead exposure.
The NRA showed the Commission how the studies were flawed, and how the data actually showed the opposite of what proponents were claiming: condor blood-lead levels actually slightly increased after AB 821 was implemented. NRA also obtained information from the Department of Fish and Game’s own law enforcement wardens showing that 99% of all hunters were complying with the lead ammunition ban in the “Condor Zone.” Faced with the facts, the Commissioners were convinced that lead ammunition is not the sole cause of lead exposure in wildlife, and that the AB 821 lead ammunition ban was ineffective. Alternative sources of lead, such as lead paint, gasoline, and pesticides, must play a significant role in lead exposure and poisoning. The Commission not only rejected the proposed expansion of the lead ammo ban areas, it abandoned any effort to move for a vote to open a formal public comment period before adopting the proposed regulations. The NRA’s presentation prompted the Commission to recommend going back to the drawing board to study the issue before implementing any new lead ammunition bans. The Commissioners decided to form a stakeholder’s science committee to get to the bottom of the scientific debate on the cause of lead exposure in condors. The Commission even invited NRA representatives to join the committee! The committee will include Commission President Jim Kellogg, Commissioner Michael Sutton, and scientists from the Audubon Society and the NRA.
To combat the misguided efforts by environmental activists and researchers seeking to infringe on hunting and shooting sports regulations, the NRA and CRPA have collected tens of thousands of documents via public records act requests over the last several years pertaining to the use of lead ammunition. Many of these documents raise serious doubts about the veracity of claims that lead ammunition is poisoning California condors, wildlife, or humans. The NRA and the CRPA Foundation have used these documents to debunk the faulty science being used to implement various lead ammunition bans across the country.
These efforts are critical in defending the status quo for hunters and recreational shooters nationwide and have resulted in the rejection of several proposed and ill-conceived bans throughout the United States.