Congrats, Bullets—You’ve Found a Second Way to Kill Wildlife

Animal advocacy groups are pushing for a California bill to ban lead bullets in hunting, on the basis that the metal is poisoning the environment and birds that eat animals killed by hunters.

“Lead in the environment is hazardous and we’ve known for a long time that lead is a problem in wildlife habitats,” said Jennifer Fearing, California state director for the Humane Society of the Untied States, to TakePart.

The Humane Society of the United States, Audobon California and Defenders of Wildlife are hoping to present a bill to the California legislature this year. The groups are also hoping to get the California Fish and Game Commission to regulate lead ammunition in hunting.

When hunters shoot a deer or other animal in the forest, they dress the animal and leave the parts they do not want, to be scavenged by birds of prey, Fearing explained. Because of lead and ammunition fragments in the killed animal, birds that feed on the leftover parts—called “gut piles”—can be poisoned by the toxic metals.

Endangered condors, golden eagles, turkey vultures and other birds are all among the animals at risk for harm. For adult condors, “the leading cause of death is lead poisoning,” according to Garrison Frost, spokesperson for conservation group Audobon California. While lead shot is already banned in waterfowl hunting and the state has already banned the use of lead ammunition in condor habitats, these groups are hoping for a broader ban to close up loopholes and make enforcement easier.

“Everyone knows that lead is an incredibly toxic substance, and I think people for the longest time thought that shooting bullets out in the forest didn’t have any effect,” Frost said to TakePart. “Lead accumulates and does not dissolve, so lead has been accumulating for hundreds of years. I am concerned about this aggregating poison that is in our ecosystem.”

While environmental groups bring up alternatives such as copper bullets, opposition groups say they are more expensive and “don’t fly the same”, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, popular hunting fields may contain up to 400,000 pieces of lead shot.

“Imagine if that much lead turned up on a school ground, what the response would be,” Frost said.

Fearing also cited studies that discussed the effect of lead traces for humans: microscopic amounts of lead found in venison and other meat consumed by humans.

“It’s a human health issue. You wouldn’t be excited to hear there was lead in your hamburger,” Fearing said.

The Humane Society of the United States hopes to get residents across the state involved once the bill is introduced, contacting their legislators to push for the legislation’s success. Last year, 48,000 citizens contacted legislators to help push forward a state bill to ban bear and bobcat hounding, she said.

“I can tell you that Californians really care about environmental issues and animal protection and when they contact their legislators, they make a difference,” Fearing said. “It matters.”

If you hunt, would you support switching to other types of ammunition? Let us known in the comments.

Related Stories on TakePart:

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• Urban Fowl: Community Garden Chickens Laying Lead-Filled Eggs

Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou |