California Wildlife Group Misleads People on Ammunition

With legislation working its way through the California Assembly (AB 2223) that would expand California’s ill-advised ban on traditional ammunition into all wildlife management areas of the state, anti-hunting groups are continuing to stoke the flame of emotion in hopes that legislators will forget about science.   Just last week the Audubon Society of California blogged about a California condor chick from the Pinnacles National Monument needing to be removed from its nest for treatment of lead poisoning. Executives with the Audubon Society linked the chick’s condition with traditional ammunition, saying, “One of the biggest sources of lead in the environment is spent lead ammunition. California condors frequently feed on animal carcasses left behind by hunters, and often consume great amounts of lead from ammunition.”

What the Audubon Society failed to mention was that this 50-day-old condor chick was never alive during hunting season.

The firearms and ammunition industry vigorously opposed the effort to ban use of traditional ammunition in condor regions, citing a lack of evidence that some condors had elevated blood lead levels from ingesting ammunition fragments while scavenging entrails from hunter-harvested big game. Nevertheless, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the ban into law , which went into effect July 1, 2008.  In 2009, a report issued by the California Fish & Game Commission on blood lead levels in California condors was inconclusive and supported the National Shooting Sports Foundation's contention that there is no scientific basis for the state's ban on traditional ammunition in condor regions.  The department and commission noted that the "sources of lead in sampled condors are unknown, relationship of sampled condors to hunting activity are unknown, and . . . the condor feeding habits for this period . . . are unknown."

Here’s what is known:  Condors feed on small pieces of garbage called micro-trash. Micro-trash includes batteries, plastics and painted-fence pieces. Certainly, a much more reasonable explanation for why some condors have elevated blood lead levels is that they are feeding on these lead-based products comprising micro-trash. Of course, this likelihood is also overlooked by the Audubon Society. 

Today, with attempts to expand the traditional ammunition ban, we continue to push back against arguments based on emotion and politics rather than peer-reviewed science. Expanding the ban on traditional ammunition will only serve to further erode hunting in the Golden State, reduce hunter-generated revenues that support wildlife conservation and damage an industry that has contributed millions of dollars into wildlife programs.