Get the lead out of California’s environment

February 23rd, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

California birds need your help to reduce a dangerous threat to their survival. Poisoning from lead ammunition left behind in the environment poses a grave danger to rare birds such as the California Condor and the Golden Eagle, as well as to more common birds such as the Mourning Dove and the California Quail. Failure to address this situation will eventually erode both wetland and upland bird populations and diminish opportunities for hunting on these lands. This year, the California Department of Fish and Game is expected to consider a number of administrative rules to reduce the threat of lead ammunition, including a restriction of its use on more than 600,000 acres of state wildlife areas. We need you to let the Commission know that you support these types of protections. Write them an email here today. Below are  some facts to consider:

Audubon California in 2008 was successful in passing a restriction on the use of lead ammunition in the range of the California Condor. However, lead poisoning of this endangered species related to lead ammunition left behind in the environment still poses a serious threat to the survival of this great bird.

There is a widespread consensus among conservationists, hunters, public agencies, and land managers that the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting poses a real danger to bird populations in wetland environments. Based on this consensus, the federal government banned the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991.

While the prohibition on lead shot for waterfowl was a good start, it is increasingly understood that many birds continue to be at risk. More than twenty-five states have laws on their books that expand the prohibitions beyond waterfowl on state lands. Moreover, the federal government already bans the use of lead shot on all National Wildlife Refuges in California.

Despite this, the use of lead shot for hunting upland game is currently allowed on most California state wildlife areas, and often results in lead being introduced into wetland environments.

The risks of lead shot to waterfowl are well documented, but research is beginning to show risks to upland birds, as well. A Wildlife Society technical report (Sources and Implications of Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle on Natural Resources – June , 2008):

The risk of spent shot to upland game species, including doves and quail, is well recognized (Kendall et al. 1996). Lead exposure and poisoning from the ingestion of spent lead ammunition has been reported in many species of upland game birds and hunted non-Anseriform waterbirds, including chukar (Alectoris chukar), grey partridge (Perdix perdix), ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), scaled quail (Callipepla squamata), northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), American woodcock (Scolopax minor), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), American coot, clapper rail (Rallus longirostris), king rail (R. elegans), Virginia rail (R. limicola), and sora (Porzana carolina) (Fisher et al. 2006). The authors of a risk assessment of lead shot exposure in non-waterfowl species concluded that, of upland game birds, the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is particularly at risk for lead poisoning mortality. This is because of cold susceptibility of lead-dosed birds, increased shot ingestion as hunting seasons progress, and because they frequent high-risk habitats (Kendall et al. 1996). Indeed, on managed dove fields, post-hunt shot availability has been reported to be as high as 860,185 pellets/hectare (Best et al. 1992). Furthermore, evidence exists that doves may ingest large numbers of lead shot and die rather quickly, thus being unavailable for harvest, the usual source of samples for estimating lead shot ingestion in doves (Schulz et al. 2002, 2006).

Lead shot has been observed in 37 species of non-waterfowl birds, with particular dangers to Mourning Doves. Here is research that is specific to Mourning Doves:

Frequently used upland hunting fields may have as much as 400,000 shot per acre. Individual shooting ranges may receive as much as 1.5 to 23 tons of lead shot and bullets annually, and outdoor shooting ranges overall may use more than 80,000 tons of lead shot and bullets each year.

This effort is good for hunting:

  • Banning the use of lead shot in state wildlife areas will not reduce hunting. The 1991 federal ban has had no impact on the level of waterfowl hunting inCalifornia.
  • Hunters play an important role in wildlife management and conservation, particularly in funding through licenses and excise taxes on sporting equipment sales.
  • This policy change should appeal to hunters, given that inaction stands to erode both wetland and upland bird populations – and diminish hunting opportunities.
(photo by the USFWS)

Categories: Audubon California · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · Endangered Species Act · Pollution · State Policy

One Comment so far ↓

  • Tomasita Medál

    If you compose the petition I will sign it, but not good at composing letters.