Much to the surprise of California hunters, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 4-1 at its Aug. 6 meeting in Woodland not to expand the ban on lead ammunition in the state’s condor zone to include small game and upland bird hunting.
The California Department of Fish and Game had recommended that the commission not widen the ban, saying there was insufficient evidence to link lead ammunition used for small game and upland bird hunting with lead poisoning in condors.
Currently, hunters are prohibited from using lead bullets for hunting big game in areas designated as California condor range, which extends roughly from San Jose south to Los Angeles. This prohibition went into effect July 1, 2008 amid unproven speculation that condors were dying from lead scavenged from the entrails of hunter-harvested game.
NRA opposed this original ban before it went into effect and sent a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission on June 19 opposing an extension of the ban to include small game and upland birds. The commission’s proposal to expand the ban was soundly criticized across the hunting and shooting community for lacking scientific merit.
“Our position, as the commission knows, is that from the start of these hearings there has been and continues to be no clear and convincing scientific information that justifies the adoption of [this ban],” said Tom Pederson of the California Rifle and Pistol Association at the Aug. 6 hearing. “There has been no documented evidence that hunting of both small and upland game with lead ammunition poses a risk to condors. It is unlikely that small and upland game animal carcasses would be left in the field. And it is further unlikely that condors would find such a small carcass if it were left in the field.”
The commission in large part examined the possibility of expanding the lead ban because of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council against the state of California. The settlement of that lawsuit required the commission to consider amending the hunting regulations to extend the ban to all game species within the condor’s range. The Center for Biological Diversity in particular supported the original lead ban in condor country.
“I believe the science from the special interest [groups] was tainted before, and I’ve said that many times,” said Jim Kellogg, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, referring to data supplied by anti-hunting groups in support of the lead ban. “I also still believe that there was never any real truth that lead bullets are what the condors are dying from. … I’ve said all along that the same groups who seem to be on a winning path right now would come back and try to expand that ban. And here we are.”
Kellogg voted against expanding the ban and was joined by Commissioners Richard B. Rogers, Daniel W. Richards, and Donald Benninghoven. Commissioner Michael Sutton voted in favor of extending the ban.
Indeed, contrary to the claims of anti-hunting groups, recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) shows that the ban on lead ammunition for big game hunting in California’s condor range is not helping to reduce the blood-lead levels in endangered California condors. Despite reports of nearly 100 percent compliance from hunters in the first year of the lead ban, a recent report from the California Department of Fish and Game utilizing the USFWS data showed that improvement in condor blood-lead levels was almost negligible between the first six months of 2008 (pre-lead ban) and the second half of 2008 (post-ban).
In response to that report, NRA sent a second letter to the California Fish and Game Commission on July 28 reaffirming its opposition to any extension of the lead ban.
“The Fish and Game Department’s report reinforces what the NRA has said from the very beginning, and that is the science is not there to confirm that high blood-lead levels in condors is the result of the ingestion of lead ammunition fragments that may be found in hunter-killed game,” said Susan Recce, NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources.
NRA will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates as they become available.
For more background on this story:
California Considering Lead Ammo Ban Expansion