Expert Voices

Lead in Discarded Bullets a Hazard for People and Wildlife (Op-Ed)

guns, ammunition, lead
(Image credit: Warren Price | Dreamstime)

Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This Op-Ed first appeared on the blog A Humane Nation, where it ran before appearing in LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

While The HSUS provides an extraordinary amount of direct-care to animals, our biggest impact is felt through our cruelty-prevention programs — whether that's done by cracking down on puppy mills, factory farms or Canada's seal hunt, or other initiatives that take aim at institutionalized or systemic forms of animal exploitation.

One such effort is aimed at ending the use of lead ammunition in hunting. Specifically, in California, The HSUS is backing a bill to phase in a requirement that hunters use non-lead ammunition. The assembly passed the bill, A.B. 711, by a two-to-one margin, and if the senate follows suit and Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will become the first state to require the transition to ammunition made of copper, bismuth, steel or other non-toxic metals.

Lead has been removed from paint, gasoline and other consumer products because it kills people. There's no known safe exposure level, which is why it's time to remove lead from hunting ammunition.

When the NRA and other groups fought efforts more than two decades ago to ban the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting, they said that a legal prohibition on its use would result in the end of duck and goose hunting. Such outlandish claims, which we can now evaluate in a very tangible way, have proven false. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instituted a nationwide ban on lead-shot use for waterfowl hunting in 1991, and millions of waterfowl hunters made the transition to non-toxic shot.

The naysayers made the same claims when California lawmakers considered a bill to ban the use of lead shot in the range of the California condor, a vast area between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There, too, hunters made the switch, and there's been no decline in the sale of deer-hunting licenses.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation — the trade association for gun and ammunition makers, based in Newtown, Conn. of all places — is now running ads in California saying The HSUS is working to ban all hunting by pushing for AB 711. We've been down this road before, and their claims will be proved false over time.

Here's the reason for our support of this bill: A preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that there are significant public-health, environmental and wildlife-health risks associated with lead from ammunition. One estimate says that more than 10 million doves a year die from lead poisoning. When you consider that there are more than 130 species of animals known to die from lead poisoning, it's quite a staggering toll.

Scavenging birds like condors, owls, eagles and hawks, as well as mammals like coyotes, are all at risk and known to be suffering from lead poisoning. Death from lead poisoning is painful. Even when lead exposure isn't high enough to kill an animal, it doesn't take much to weaken an animal to the point where it then succumbs to predation or disease.

It's also better for hunters and their families, who won't be at risk of consuming lead fragments in the meat from wild game.

With an alternative product available, why not make the switch?

Editorial support for AB 711 from newspapers across California has poured in — the Los Angeles Times, the Monterey County Herald, the San Jose Mercury News, the Fresno Bee, the Sacramento Bee, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and the Bakersfield Californian, to name a few.

More than a hundred California veterinarians support the policy of removing lead from hunting ammunition. Even the president and vice president of California's Fish and Game Commission back the bill. More than 30 environmental, children's health, and animal protection organizations have sent letters of support for the bill, including Audubon California and Defenders of Wildlife.

If you live in California, and haven't weighed in with your state senator, now is a good time to do so.

Pacelle's most recent Op-Ed was "What's Driving Federal Efforts to Nullify State Animal Protections?". This article was adapted from "Leading on Lead", which first appeared as on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.