This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
A bill to ban lead ammunition in California has sparked a heated debate among environmentalists, conservationists, hunters and sportsmen.
But, don???t expect these groups to follow political conventions. This isn???t your usual gun control debate.
This week, the National Shooting Sports Foundation launched a new radio spot which calls for a voluntary program to reduce the use of leaded ammunition in lieu of Assembly Bill 711???s ban. It also claims, ???Hunters are overwhelmingly conservationists.??? If that seems like a contradiction in terms, or a Machiavellian effort to draw the ire of environmentalists, you???d be wrong.
Even proponents of AB711 acknowledge the important role that hunters play in conservation efforts. Many supporters of the lead ammunition ban are lifelong hunters themselves. Both sides of the lead ammunition ban are defying political stereotypes with hunters and sportsmen being praised for their contributions to conservation and even some lifelong hunting enthusiasts supporting the lead ammunition ban.
Hunters: The original Green Movement
???Hunters and sportsmen are the original ???green movement???,??? said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is opposed to lead ammunition ban. ???Since 1937, hunters and sportsmen have been the primary source of game and non-game wildlife and habitat conservation funding in the United States.???
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that nearly $200 million in hunters??? federal excise taxes are designated to conservation efforts, including wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and safety classes.
???As paradoxical as it may seem, if hunting were to disappear, a large amount of the funding that goes to restore all sorts of wildlife habitat, game and nongame species alike, would disappear,??? Steve Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Associated Press in 2010.
Hunters??? dollars aren???t their only contribution to conservation. They also provide vital data about the health of flocks and herds to conservation research.
???The great irony is that many species might not survive at all were it not for hunters trying to kill them,??? Robert M. Poole explained in a 2007 National Geographic piece about one conservation program supported by hunters. ???The nation???s 12.5 million hunters have become essential partners in wildlife management.???
Group of lifelong hunters supports AB711
If you???re struggling to process the hunter as conservationist, here???s another twist: some lifelong hunters support a ban on leaded ammunition.
Judd Hanna, a lifelong hunter and former member of the state Fish and Game Commission, has been an outspoken supporter of banning lead ammunition.
???The image of the hunter has suffered badly in recent years, due in part to bad behavior and irresponsible hunters,??? Hanna wrote in a letter of support for AB711. ???Anything we can do to demonstrate to the 38 million non-hunters that we respect our environment and recognize our responsibilities as outdoorsmen and women will help slow the erosion of our image and our numbers.???
Hunters have their own self-interest for supporting a lead ammo ban, supporters of the bill say. Why would hunters want to expose themselves, their families or animals they???re not shooting to potentially dangerous lead? That question is raised by an advocate for the Humane Society of the United States, which is co-sponsoring the bill.
???The same tiny lead fragments that scavenging birds and mammals eat and are poisoned by have been found in packaged venison and other game meat that people consume,??? said Jennifer Fearing, senior state director for the Humane Society. ???We have taken lead ??? which we have known for hundreds of years to be toxic to all living things ??? out of gasoline, pipes, children???s toys and paint.??? She points to multiple studies that question the safety of lead ammunition and call for the use of alternative ammunition.
It???s the very reason cited by more than a dozen lifelong hunters in their letter of support for AB711.
???As hunters, we are also increasingly concerned that our families may be at risk when eating game meat from animals shot with lead bullets,??? wrote a group of individual hunters and sportsmen. ???Demonstrations and studies on the public health risk from game taken using lead ammunition are compelling and have led us to use non-lead ammunition when hunting game that will end up on our dinner tables.???
Overwhelming majority of hunting associations oppose AB711
By no means is it an even split among hunters and sportsmen. The overwhelming majority of hunting and sportsmen organizations oppose a ban on leaded ammunition.
Hunting organizations opposed to AB711 include the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, North American Bear Foundation, Quality Deer Management Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute and Wildlife Forever.
???Our organizations, which represent millions of sportsmen that actively support wildlife conservation and the preservation and enhancement of our nation???s hunting and recreational shooting heritage, are writing to express our strong and united opposition to AB711,??? wrote representatives from a long list of the biggest hunting advocacy groups.
These organizations, somewhat surprisingly, also make a conservationist argument against the bill. Keane says that if AB711 becomes law, it could reduce funding for conservation efforts.
???AB 711 will effectively ban hunting in California, conservation funding in California will crater, causing harm to the very animals the HSUS (Humane Society) purports to care so much about.???
So, what will Governor Jerry Brown do on AB711?
As CalWatchdog.com???s Katy Grimes has reported, several prominent labor leaders have come out in opposition to the bill. In a recent Sacramento Bee live chat, Capitol reporter David Siders said that it was too difficult to predict the fate of AB711.
???I know this isn???t satisfactory, but I can???t predict his action on that bill,??? Siders said. ???The labor groups that have been pushing publicly on it aren???t the big ones, from what I can tell. Also, environmentalists haven???t had much luck with Brown in recent years.???