EDITORIAL: Time to get the lead out of ammo and wildlife

Former Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards denounces what he calls a "perverted agenda" being advanced through the Legislature by "enviro-terrorist groups."

The bill in question is Assembly Bill 711, an anti-lead ammunition bill by Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood -- co-authored by Assembly Member Richard Pan, a Sacramento doctor and a Democrat, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The bill would require the use of lead-free ammo for the taking of all wildlife in California by 2016 -- allowing for a two-year phase-in. State law now requires lead-free bullets and shot in eight counties in the range of the endangered California condor.

But the lead problem extends beyond those counties and beyond condors. We know that lead is toxic to animals and humans, especially to children. That's why lead is banned in gasoline, plumbing, paint and children's toys. That is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the use of lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting in 1991.

Apparently among Richards' "enviro-terrorists" are 30 scientists from across the country, including 10 University of California scientists from the Davis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses. They signed a March 22 statement supporting "the reduction and eventual elimination of lead released to the environment through the discharge of lead-based ammunition."

As the scientists point out, lead-based ammunition is "likely the greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged in the environment in the United States."

Lead ammunition is a problem because it fragments into hundreds of small pieces when entering the body of a deer or other animal. Those fragments disperse through the animal's organs and muscle tissue. Birds and mammals then feed on the carcasses: condors, turkey vultures, eagles, ravens, wild turkeys, mountain lions.

Paul Hansen, former executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, has written that it is time for hunters to stop using outdated lead ammunition: "Lead bullets are bad for everyone: They contaminate the meat we bring home as well as the gut piles we leave behind, and they also poison any scavengers that consume the contaminated meat." Significantly, the states of North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- where hunting is a way of life -- recommend that pregnant women and children do not eat game shot with lead ammunition.

Lead-free bullets and shot that leave no shards are available. Contrary to what the NRA and gun retailers claim, a ban on lead bullets would not be the end of the world. It hasn't hindered waterfowl hunting.

AB 711 passed the Assembly last week on a largely party-line vote of 44-21. The state Senate should pass it, too. Lawmakers should ignore the name-calling by people like Richards. California has the opportunity to be a leader in launching a national ban on lead bullets and shot.