State lawmakers hold hot debate over lead bullets

September 10, 2013 10:00:01 PM PDT
There's a move to ban hunters from using lead ammunition in California. Environmentalists say it would protect endangered species, but opponents say it's really just an attempt to stop hunting altogether in the state.

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 really is a back door attempt to get rid of hunting altogether in California.

"It's original intent was to ban hunting. It's 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. The growth of California cities and roads can each be responsible for increased access to lead," said Assm. Frank Bigelow, R-Madera.

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, not just a neurotoxin for condors or other wildlife, it's also a toxin for human beings," said Assm. Richard Pan, M.D., 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 controversial measure to Gov. Jerry 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.