The California Fish and Game Commission approved regulations to begin implementing Assembly Bill 711, banning using lead ammunition for any hunting purposes anywhere in the state by July 1, 2019.

AB 711 was enacted in 2013 and requires the commission to begin its implementation by July 1, 2015. Earlier this month, the commission approved the first step, which would require non-lead ammunition to be used when taking all wildlife on state wildlife areas and ecological reserves.

The 2013 law builds on a previously enacted ban of lead ammunition using big-game or non-game hunting within the range of the California condor.

Also, beginning this summer, non-lead ammunition will be required for hunters taking Nelson bighorn sheep in California’s desert areas. In 2014, only 14 tags were issued for bighorn sheep statewide, according to the commission.

In July 2016, the next phase of implementation will require non-lead ammunition use when taking upland game birds with a shotgun, except for dove, quail and snipe, and any game birds taken under the authority of a licensed game bird club. And, non-lead ammunition will be required for the taking of resident small-game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds and any wildlife for depredation purposes, with a shotgun statewide.

However, in light of the uncertainty regarding the retail availability of non-lead center-fire and rim-fire ammunition in smaller calibers, it still will be legal to take small game, furbearing and non-game mammals, as well as non-game birds and wildlife for depredation purposes with traditional lead rim-fire and center-fire ammunition during this phase, according to the draft regulations.

In 2019, the final phase of AB 711 implementation will permit hunters to the use only non-lead ammunition for the taking of any wildlife in California.

The commission, as well as CDFW, began this regulatory process more than a year ago in 2014. The agencies initiated an intensive public outreach effort designed to solicit ideas from both hunters and non-hunters regarding the least disruptive manner to phase-in the transition from traditional lead to non-lead ammunition, while recognizing the July 2019 full-compliance date.

CDFW shared a “starting point” proposal with the public at 16 outreach meetings throughout the state, from Susanville to San Diego.

The comments received underscored the differences of opinion regarding the merits of AB 711, the likely retail availability of non-lead ammunition and the effect of the environment of requiring non-lead ammunition. The merits of AB 711 are outside the scope of the commission’s current process.

Although the various comments provided conflicting opinions regarding the likely availability of non-lead ammunition and the environmental impacts of phasing-in the non-lead ammunition requirement, none of the comments provided substantial reasons to change to the draft conclusions.

The comments ranged from recommendations to impose a total ban on lead ammunition before July 2019 to alternatives to permitting its continued use, despite the legislative mandate.

The Ventana Wildlife Society near Salinas recommended implementing the ban this summer. The Defenders of Wildlife concurred with the commission plan. In support, it submitted a petition signed by more than 4,100 members, including three from the Hill.

The Outdoor Sportsmen Coalition of California recommended “… a practical alternative that would require a hunter to bury, cover or otherwise make unavailable to predators or scavengers any entrails, carcasses or other remains of animals taken by the hunter unless the hunter used non-lead ammunition to take such animal.

“Such a provision would provide hunters the alternative of using traditional ammunition, subject to the above restrictions and implementing regulations that would be adopted by the commission,” according to OSCC.