Ban on lead ammunition to protect habitat rankles hunters, gun advocates


How to save the majestic California condor? The use of lead in ammunition is already banned for hunting in the bird's main habitat, between San Jose and Los Angeles. But lead continues to be the leading cause of death for the endangered species.

Lawmakers had a contentious debate over whether to extend the ban statewide, requiring hunters to use non-lead bullets beginning in 2019.

Since lead-free ammo is difficult to find, and expensive, opponents say this is really a backdoor attempt to get rid of hunting altogether in the state.

"Its original intent was to ban hunting. It was a hunting ban disguised as a ban on lead ammo," said Assm. Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks).

"In reality there are many potential factors that create identical impacts on California's wildlife population," said Assm. Frank Bigelow (R-Madera). "The growth of California cities and roads can each be responsible for increased access to lead."

But supporters insist the ban helps wildlife and the environment.

Researchers found when hunters leave behind the animals they kill, condors will ingest the bullet fragments while eating the carcass, and die.

"Lead is a neurotoxin, and it's not just a neurotoxin for condors or for other wildlife, it's also a toxin for human beings," said Assm. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento).

"It just makes sense to protect our environment. There's no evidence that the bill will limit hunting or increase costs for hunters," said Assm. Marc Levine (D-San Rafael).

In the end, lawmakers sent the measure to Governor Brown, who has a month to act. If he signs it, California will have the nation's first statewide ban on lead bullets for hunting.

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