Thursday, March 11, 2010

New lead ban proposal in California

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Assemblyman Nava (D - 35th Dist.) recently introduced AB 2223, banning lead shot in all California State wildlife management areas.  Though not a gigantic leap (all Federal refuges in the state already ban lead shot, as does Ft. Hunter-Liggett), I would really love to see some regional science to support banning lead shot in these particular places, and since this is currently lacking, I must, sadly, not endorse this bill.
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First, let me note that I do not use lead in any hunting anymore.  This is a personal decision I've made, especially since my baby was born.  I also do believe that lead has harmed many raptors and California condors.  Because of this, I fully supported the lead ban in California condor range.

On a broader note, I've argued that lead bans seem to be just about the only way to move companies to provide lower-cost alternatives for hunters who want to switch.  Volunteer efforts are hindered as long as the cost of non-lead ammunition remains prohibitively high (e.g., my 30-30 ammo. costs $18 for lead, or $52 for nonlead), and ammunition companies see no need to re-tool, so long as they can help convince hunters that this is just another enviro-commie conspiracy to end hunting.  (Cost, by the way, is not an issue for steel shot, anymore, precisely because lead was outlawed from waterfowl hunting nearly 20 years ago.)

Lead in the environment can pose problems to particular species (including us!), and so it would be nice to see a cost-effective, non-toxic alternative to what most hunters currently use in rifle ammunition.

So why, then, do I not support this particular legislation? 

First step back a minute, and consider where much of our conservation funding originates.  Yes, it's clich√©, but only because it continues to be true - hunters pay for much of our conservation efforts, and they are definitely paying the lion's share of conservation on these particular sites.  Now, consider that they pay because they are out there.

Hunting is a love of a place almost as much as a love of game and food.  Sit out in a blind at sunrise, with a view of the flooded marsh, and Mt. Diablo or the Sutter Buttes beyond it, and you understand.  Watch the tules, listen for the tell-tale scurrying noises in a particular stand of oaks or blackberry bramble, and you get to know them as much as, or more than, the animals you pursue.  Hunters know which side of which mountain holds a decent covey, and the particular bend in the river above which struts a tom.  Place is vital to hunting. This is why Aldo Leopold called it a "land ethic".

So it behooves those non-hunters who would work for the betterment of these places to first understand them, too.  If the folks who supported and wrote this legislation had, instead, proposed a research study to identify the impacts of lead shot at particular management areas, or better yet, proposed annual research on ecosystem health and impacts (good and bad) within these systems, I would be charging ahead in support.  And, if it were determined after a year or two of research that lead shot was adversely impacting these ecosystems, including bad impacts to particular species (including us!), then I would work hard to help eliminate lead shot from these places, because, you see, it's the places that are important.  Knowing and respecting place is important in getting hunters to make good decisions about their impacts. 

It's also good science.  What these beautiful, bountiful places need is real, place-based understanding.  In the rush to do good, I worry that we may overlook real problems suffered by these wonderful areas, while thinking we've helped.  My worst fear is that well-meaning, non-hunting advocates will use political capital to ban lead shot, and subsequent research will show that there is, in fact, a lead problem on these lands, but it isn't from shot.  In this case, hunters will be even less trusting of the new efforts (and maybe even stopped supporting these places), politicians will have moved on to the Next Big Thing, and by far worst of all, animals (including us!) and habitat will continue to suffer.

So long as non-hunting advocates ignore the place-based nature of hunting, and instead rely upon general notions of what is best, they will continue to suffer the anger and disappointment of many hunters, a group who is already leery of notions about Big Brother.

Californians concerned about lead in habitat should take a page from the Peregrine Fund's work in Arizona and Utah, as Phillip noted over at the Hog Blog.  Surely here in California we can encourage a back-to-nature hunting movement already afoot (e.g., see here) through volunteer efforts, using the power of reason and love for a place and perpetuating an important tradition.

Now, let's focus on good research on the places we love.

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