Local news outlets often choose to ignore readily-available data and instead “report” on a topic using only one-sided activist talking points. It’s a disservice to viewers and leads to bad policy.
Case in point is the push to enact bans on traditional lead-based ammunition that have become increasingly popular despite clear science showing they are harmful to conservation and wildlife management efforts.
California is ground zero.
Ninety-Nine Percent Bias
A particularly egregious perpetrator of this practice is John FitzRandolph, a freelance writer for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. He often writes about California condors and their recovery from near extinction. Instead of including the positive role hunters in California have played in the raptor’s successful and ongoing comeback, he ignores them completely and suggests the need for even more anti-hunting restrictions.
FitzRandolph’s latest uses the death of one California condor due to lead poisoning, offering no evidence that it was hunter- or ammunition-related, to cast blame on hunters writ large and to dollar shame them for not using more expensive, less available alternative ammunition options. He ignores that condors are known to consume lead from other sources, including trash and refuse fills, garbage piles and even by ingesting lead-based paint chips from water towers and man-made structures where they’ve nested. FitzRandolph even uses an outdated photo from 2012 of an x-ray showing a condor with bullet fragments.
“As scavengers, condors rely on carrion – the carcasses of deer, squirrels and marine mammals – for food,” FitzRandolph writes. “When a condor’s meal has been killed with lead bullets, studies show that they often become poisoned and perish.”
The article extensively quotes local biologists connecting hunters’ use of traditional lead-based ammunition as the culprit.
“If lead poisoning wasn’t such a huge problem, condors would have been expected to reach (150) by 2025,” Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) Executive Director Kelly Sorenson explained. “The fact remains, condors can only be self-sustaining when lead poisoning is significantly reduced.”
The anti-hunter, anti-science bias is clear. Despite repeated attacks on California hunters, the population of California condors has risen from 14 in 2000 to nearly 100 today. California legislators in 2019 enacted a complete ban on the use of traditional hunting ammunition and according to California Department of Natural Resources data, California hunters have a nearly 99 percent compliance rate. There isn’t much more room for traditional ammunition to be “significantly reduced.”
FitzRandolph even attempts to assuage hunters’ hesitancy about switching ammunition by noting they are eligible to receive one 20-round box of lead-free ammunition per calendar year, as if that is a serious trade-off.
From California to Maine
The effort to restrict and shame hunters isn’t solely a California thing. Local news articles use the same flawed logic in Raleigh, N.C., Bangor, Maine, Washington State, Minnesota, North Dakota,Michigan and elsewhere and use America’s bald eagles to tug at the public’s heartstrings to gain support for traditional ammunition bans.
Regarding the bald eagle, there’s no greater success story among American conservation. The significant contributions America’s hunters have made can’t be ignored.
In 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs. Those dire days are long gone. The Department of the Interior released a 2020 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report celebrating the 71,400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, and more than 316,000 individual birds. The bald eagle population has quadrupled since 2009. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland praised the bald eagles’ return, saying, “The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the most well-known conservation success stories of all time.”
Flawed Federal Policy
When local news reporting repeats this anti-hunter flawed narrative it has national implications.
Last year, the USFWS announced a “bait-and-switch” deal that banned the use of traditional ammunition while at the same time opening 18 national wildlife refuges for new hunting and fishing opportunities. It was a ruse.
Despite promises from President Joe Biden that his administration would “follow the science,” the USFWS offered no objective scientific evidence establishing that the use of traditional lead core ammunition poses a risk wildlife populations to support its ban.
When hunters are limited in land access and what affordable ammunition they can use, they will instead choose a different activity. That hurts the American public who enjoy access to public lands, not just hunters. It also means less support for the firearm and ammunition industry who pay the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes that go into the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund and get distributed back to the states for wildlife conservation and management projects.
Created in 1937, firearm and ammunition manufacturers have contributed over $22.4 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. America’s wildlife populations have never been healthier and that’s the science and success that local media and writers like FitzRandolph should report.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.