National News

Banning Lead Ammunition to Save the Condors

Posted November 27, 2018 9:34 a.m. EST

Today, we’re trying something a little different.

Ian Urbina, a New York Times investigative reporter, wrote about new efforts to curb the use of lead ammunition by hunters. Unsurprisingly, California has been out front on the issue, with a statewide ban going into effect in July, so I asked him to tell us a little more about the story.

Q: Say I’m a Californian who doesn’t hunt and doesn’t eat game meat. Should the use of lead in ammunition worry me?

A: Yes, if only because you care about the environment and wildlife. Lead exposure is the leading cause of death among California condors and a major threat to bald eagles, ravens and other raptors, for example. By 1982, the number of California condors in the wild had dwindled to 22 — an entire species nearly wiped out partly as a result from this type of poisoning. Thanks largely to captive breeding programs, their numbers have rebounded.

Q: Was there opposition to California’s ban?

A: The problem of lead exposure is intense, and it was unclear that hunters would willingly transition away from traditional bullets fast enough if it was not mandatory. The ban also helps create a guaranteed market for lead-free ammunition, which could encourage manufacturers to make more. However, many opponents to the ban say it is unenforceable, costly and potentially counterproductive if it causes hunters to dig in their heels.

They point to Arizona’s voluntary approach as an alternative. Since 2005, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has provided free non-lead ammunition to big game hunters in certain regions. If hunters still prefer to use lead ammunition, they’re offered incentives to haul shot animals out of the field so as to remove the source of lead. Participation among hunters is high: above 80 percent by some estimates.

Q: You also wrote about reporting this story as a vegetarian. Did you eat any game meat dishes that you actually enjoyed? Or, at least, liked more than you thought you would?

A: Pork is really my weakness, but the elk meat was tasty. Mostly, I was surprised by how out of practice your gastrointestinal system becomes when you don’t eat meat consistently over many years. My body was not pleased with me about this trip.