Along with thousands of other bloggers, I’m observing the inaugural Blog Action Day by blogging about the environment today.
We heard some good news out of California on Saturday. Going against pressure from his own party and particularly from the National Rifle Association (NRA), governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 821 (the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act), which outlawed the use of lead ammunition by large game hunters in California within the range of the highly endangered condor.
Although their numbers in the wild are slowly increasing, these majestic birds are still on the brink of extinction. Ingestion of lead ammunition has been directly linked to many condor deaths, and this is perhaps the greatest obstacle facing the successful reintroduction of condors to the wild. From the Center for Biological Diversity:
The California condor is one of the world’s most endangered species. Only 127 of the birds currently fly free in the wild, 70 of them in California. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors. Since 1992 at least 12 condor deaths in California have been caused by lead poisoning, and dozens more poisoned condors have required invasive, life-saving chelation therapy to “de-lead” their blood after feeding on lead-tainted carcasses.
Five scientific studies published in 2006 provided overwhelming evidence that the lead poisoning of condors comes from ammunition fragments in carcasses and gut piles left behind in the condor range by hunters. In July 2007 more than 45 prominent wildlife biologists signed a “Statement of Scientific Agreement” concluding that lead ammunition is the primary source of the lead that is poisoning condors.
Despite this and the fact that non-lead bullets are widely available (although somewhat more expensive), many expected Schwarzenegger to veto AB 821 based on some of his recent actions. In particular, Schwarzenegger forced the resignation of moderate Republican Fish and Game Commissioner Judd Hanna on September 13th for compiling a document in support of a ban on lead ammunition. From The Sacramento Bee:
On Sept. 10, Cox and 33 other NRA supporters — led by Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula — sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging the ouster of Fish and Game Commissioner R. Judd Hanna.
Hanna’s crime? Convinced that lead ammunition is killing condors, he prepared a 167-page document summarizing the evidence and distributed it to his fellow commissioners.
Hanna is hardly a tree-hugger. A Republican from Tehama County, he is a hunter, farmer, former real estate developer and a retired Navy pilot. Schwarzenegger appointed him to a six-year term in February.
Yet because of pressure from his GOP brethren, Hanna resigned Thursday, telling friends he was forced to quit by the Schwarzenegger administration. He continues to defend his position on lead ammo. “The evidence is overwhelming,” Hanna said in his e-mail. “Lead from ammunition is the primary cause of illness and death in the endangered species, California condor.”
You can view state senator Dennis Hollingsworth’s letter to governor Schwarzenegger here. He makes a fairly unimpressive case against Hanna:
For example, [Hanna] recently prepared a 167 page document, largely a compendium of other peoples’ work but with his own personal annotations added throughout, in an effort to support a lead ammunition ban, while his duties as a Commissioner simultaneously required him to impartially consider the issue at this informational hearing. He then distributed the annotated document to the other Commissioners as preparation for the Commission hearing on this subject that was to be held August 27, 2007. When questioned about this at the hearing by a member of the public, he said the document was just for informational purposes. However, his annotations added to the document speak differently.
So, Hanna is being persecuted for being informed? That’s not too compelling. Hollingsworth probably realizes this, so he continues. However, he only manages to build an even less compelling and more irrelevant case against Hanna:
Another fundamental issue is that the Commission is severely unbalanced in its geographic representation of the people of California. There are three Commissioners from the northern part of the state and two from north coastal regions. There are no Commissioners from Southern California where the majority of Californians reside. Fairness dictates there should be representation from the southern portion of the state.
No, fairness dictates that we don’t hold our environmental interests hostage to the whims of an extreme organization like the NRA. It looks like Hanna didn’t want to play ball, so he had to go. I don’t think anyone is buying the spurious premise of this irrelevant geography argument.
Of course, this pales in comparison to the wacky logic that the NRA itself is resorting to. From a recent Washington Post article:
The National Rifle Association is mobilizing members against the bill, calling the link to lead ammo unproved and the alternatives more expensive for hunters.
“Hunting should not be a sport for the rich and famous, as it was during feudal times,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Yes, that’s right. According to the NRA, a ban on lead ammunition will set us back a full thousand years.
As absurd as all of this is, Schwarzenegger–contrary to his reputation as an environmentally-minded moderate Republican–caved in to these extreme voices by forcing the resignation of Hanna. He has saved some face here by doing the right thing and signing AB 821 into law, but the true test will be his replacement for Hanna. Will he live up to his name and replace Hanna with another conservation-minded moderate, or will he bow once again to the NRA?