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California Fish and Game Commission Rejects Proposed Expansion of Lead Ammo Ban

Friday, August 31, 2012

In a victory for hunters and sport shooters, on August 8, the California Fish and Game 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.

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 and California Rifle and Pistol Association representatives, scientists, and lawyers opposed the proposal.  Their presentations are available online.

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 ban on hunters' lead ammunition in the "Condor Zone" did nothing to reduce condor blood-lead levels!  Nonetheless, they insist that condor lead exposure and poisoning is due to hunters' use of lead ammunition. Their latest publication claims to show that lead found in the blood of condors matched the lead found in ammunition.  But they relied on a discredited analysis technique, so their conclusions are unreliable.

The NRA's presentation anticipated and addressed the arguments raised by proponents of 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.

The NRA showed the commission not only that the studies were flawed, but that 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 percent 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, but abandoned any effort to open a formal public comment period on the proposed regulations.

The NRA's presentation prompted the commission 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 committee will include Commission President Jim Kellogg, Commissioner Michael Sutton, and scientists from the Audubon Society and the NRA.

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