The California condor, lead bullets, and the 'truth'

The fight over banning lead ammunition for hunting Photo: Condor / USFWS Pacific Southwest

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2013 – Supporters of California’s AB 711 argue that hunters in the U.S. shoot over 3,000 pounds of lead into the environment yearly, resulting in nearly 20 million bird deaths due to lead poisoning every year. The birds are poisioned after eating discarded carcasses left by hunters.

The California condor eats animal carcasses and is one of the animals the new proposed state law seeks to protect.


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The website “Hunt for Truth” (HFT) offers an opposing opinion to that of the scientific community and supporters of a proposed California law that would ban the use of lead bullets for hunting within the state.

As more studies reveal the dangers posed by lead bullets, several states have proposed similar bans on lead ammunition for hunting. The Center for Biological Diversity has previously urged the EPA to ban lead ammunition citing negative effects on birds protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act including eagles, swans, and condors.

Passing Assembly and now making its way through the state Senate, AB 711 would ban all lead bullets for hunting within the state. At the same time it would provide California hunters with replacement non-lead bullets free of charge or at low cost.

The NRA is calling AB 711 and similar laws calling for a ban on lead ammunition an “assault on traditional hunting.”


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“Anti-lead ammunition groups will not rest until all lead ammunition, and ultimately hunting, is banned,” the NRA has said.

Hunt for Truth discusses several reasons for opposing the lead ammo ban.

The main arguments are that lead from bullets, citing a study Lead in Game Meat (Nuremberg, March 2013), is not dangerous for human consumption, a ban will create a shortage of alternative ammunition, the more lethal non-lead forms of ammo run the risk of being considered armor piercing, and the ban is just the first step in a left-wing conspiracy to end hunting altogether and ultimately obliterate the Second Amendment.

HTF divides lead into metallic and industrial lead. It then claims that the metallic lead used in bullets reacts to oxygen to form a protective layer that protects lead fragments from further oxidation.  For this reason, according to HTF, “the lead can remain on the ground in the environment for a very long period of time in an essentially inert state.”


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HFT provides no scientific evidence for this claim.

HTF also asserts that even if ingested by birds, lead from bullets is not broken down by the birds’ digestive tract and usually passes through the system intact, without harming the animal.

This statement stands in contrast to a number of studies that state the opposite, including a 2010 study (PDF) performed by scientists at U.C. Santa Cruz, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Geological Service. 

In contrast, Hunt for Truth (HTF) provides no scientific backing for its claims, other than a 10-year-old study that, when read closely, states that turkey vultures, because their digestive systems are more resistant to lead poisoning than most birds, would be poor models for assessing the risk of lead poisoning to California Condors.

There is nothing in this study to back HFT’s claims that lead fragments pass through the system of most birds without causing any harm.  

Also without citing any scientific evidence, HFT claims that the main culprits of lead poisoning in wild species like the California condor are the carcasses of industrial livestock, which contain lead from gasoline, paint, and pesticides—not bullets.

Hunt for Truth also blames “microtrash,”coins, bottle caps, and fishhooks discarded by humans as the reason for lead poisoning in most wild birds.

Aside from listing a number of studies (most of them over 10 years old and some dating back to the 1970s) proving that there are multiple avenues for lead poisoning in both humans and wildlife, HTF does not present a single piece of scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that specifically shows that lead fragments from bullets are not toxic to wildlife.

On the other side, conservationists in support of the lead bullet ban argue that the toxicity of lead is undisputed, both “metallic” and “industrial.” There are an overwhelming number of older and more recent peer-reviewed studies proving specifically that lead bullet fragments cause lead poisoning and death in birds if ingested.

Recognizing the danger of lead ammunition, the U.S. government instituted a federal ban on lead bullets for hunting waterfowl in 1991.

Proponents of the ban argue that lead free bullets perform the same, if not better, than lead bullets and are so accurate that even the U.S. military is making the change to copper bullets.

Hunt for Truth explain sthe overwhelming scientific consensus on lead’s toxicity and danger to wild birds as the result of a highly organized secret network of “activist scientists” with an environmental agenda. 

Perhaps the most convincing argument set forth by HFT is that the ban could lead to an ammunition shortage. According to websites like AmmoLand.com, if AB 711 and similar laws pass, hunters face the specter of “empty shelves of ammunition when hunting season comes along.”

While it is true that hunters may face an ammo shortage if the ban passes, there is already an ammunition shortage in the U.S. and it has nothing to do with the lead bullet ban. In any case, lead free bullets are in fact currently widely available from most major and some minor manufacturers.

Another reason to oppose AB 711 and similar laws, according to HTF, is that non-lead ammo runs the risk of being considered armor piercing ammunition, banned in the U.S. since by the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. However, the 1968 Act contains a specific exception for sporting purposes and would not affect hunters’ ability to use such ammunition.

On its website, HFT lists organizations like The Ventana Wildlife Society, California Condor Recovery Team, Peregrine Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Diego Zoo, Raptor Education Group, and Center for Biological Diversity, stating that it planned to “expose” them for misleading the public about the dangers of lead ammunition. 

“Hunt for Truth will expose the researchers associated with ‘faulty science’ critical of lead ammunition,” states the website. So far, however, HFT has failed to expose any faulty science.


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Laura Sesana

Laura Sesana is a writer and DC, Maryland attorney, joining the Communities in 2012.  She is the author of Colombia: Natural Parks, and has also written several articles on literary criticism.  She writes about food, health, nutrition, women’s legal issues, and the environment.  

In addition to writing for the Communities, Laura also works as an attorney and legal content writer.

 

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