Monday, July 29, 2013

Right Wing Editors (part 2): The Chico ER, David Little and Lead Ammunition..

Lead ammunition has become an issue in California. David Little is the editor of the daily newspaper, the Chico Enterprise Record and its sister paper, the Oroville Mercury. He wrote a horrid editorial, taken straight from the gun lobby, called: It is open season on hunters.

I've never met David, but I like him. He is a hunter and an outdoors enthusiast. A family man whose honesty and conservative common sense bleeds through his editorials and columns. And he often writes from the heart. He loves to taunt Chico's liberal city council, especially lately, when it appears they have quite a budget deficit to make up. When California was finally blessed with the visitation of a gray wolf from Oregon, who we named "Journey", David Little was supportive of having a renewed presence of wolves in California. Given the rancher hysteria about predators, that was a courageous position for him to take. David also wrote a glowing endorsement about a not often visited wilderness area in the Sierra. And his columns on his love of backpacking are vibrant and entertaining. It is obvious that he loves wild places and nature.

David has been not so good on other issues involving the outdoors. He tends to take the extreme NRA hunter line on most issues (with the lone exception of the wolves in northern California). David Little believes there are too many mountain lion in California to the extent, he believes, the black tailed and mule deer populations have been greatly diminished. David Little would like to bring back a mountain lion season. David Little is also on the wrong side of the plastic bag ban; however, given the amount of advertising daily papers get from grocery stores, he almost has to tow the industry line on that issue. I've never seen a daily newspaper endorse plastic bag bans.

David Little is a likeable fellow, but the Chico Enterprise Record remains squarely conservative and has been downright awful on environmental issues like climate change, the before mentioned plastic bag issue and the paper's lack of reporting on the success of renewable energy in this sundrenched part of California. The Chico ER will never be mistaken for a Green newspaper. At least, not yet.

But back to the lead ammunition debate. California is poised to be the first state to ban the use of lead in ammunition. The reasons for doing such are health related for humans and wildlife. Here is David Little's lead paragraph:

"California politicians are ready to grace us with another dubious first. The state will become the first to ban lead ammunition for all hunting, which is a horribly unnecessary step with one ultimate goal: to eventually make hunting so inconvenient that the dwindling numbers of California hunters finally just hang it up."

Mr. Little does endorse the ban on lead ammunition in the parts of the state where the very rare California condor has been dying from eating game that was killed with lead ammunition. Lead poisoning has been the number one killer of California condors in the wild. Environmentalists extrapolate that if it is happening to condors, it must be happening to other raptors, and indeed, humans. Minnesota advises against pregnant women from eating game killed with lead ammunition.

David and I have exchanged e-mails on topics through the years. The exchange we had regarding this issue is worth copying on to this blog.

I wrote David:

Hi David,
Just read your column today about lead ammunition. Sounds like a bit of hyperbole to say that it's all about wanting to stop all hunting in California. We've been trying to get lead out of the environment for forty years--hence no more lead in gasoline or paint. The Minnesota and North Dakota experience with lead in venison, thereby cautioning young women and children to not eat venison by the State Health Dept., well, that seems to be more about getting rid of a toxin in the environment than some sort of war on hunters. It isn't anti hunter; it's pro-health. I want my venison to not be poisoned by lead.
I don't think there is any need to blame urban environmentalists regarding new policies towards lead ammunition, or the use of dogs in hunting or our ever changing attitudes towards predators. The recent Bobcat initiative calls for studying real numbers of the predator before we trap them to extinction. Our history on managing wildlife has not been good. Nothing wrong with adding a bit of science to best management practices.
We share a love of the outdoors. I'm just hoping you'd turn down the heat when it comes to hunter/environmentalist relations.
Allan Stellar
To which, David Little replied:
The lead in paint and gasoline is harmful to humans. The lead in ammunition and fishing weights is very different. The lead in ammo and fishing weights is inert and does not dissolve in water, so is not absorbed by plants or animals. There is a huge toxicity difference between inert lead and the highly toxic lead compounds in paint.

I've been eating venison since I was a kid, and biting down on lead split shot for as long as I can remember. Lead's not going to kill me. It's a scare tactic and I'm not buying into it.
David Little
And my reply:

With all due respect, to state that calling for a lead ammunition ban is a ploy to eliminate hunting is also a scare tactic. I think you would concede that lead ammunition is harmful to raptors, waterfowl and animals that scavenge, correct? Since there is very good evidence that this occurs, that is reason enough for the lead ban. And there is evidence that lead levels are elevated after eating wild game in humans.
Or to put it another way, I'm more concerned about scavenger's exposure to lead than your exposure to lead when you chip a tooth on a pellet. Although both are important.
Let's judge lead ammunition based on real evidence, rather than scare tactics on both sides of the debate. For me, I'm willing to listen to the CDC and the Audubon Society--especially when good alternatives exist.
And David Little:
If you're willing to listen, then perhaps you can solve this riddle for me. Up in northeastern California, ground squirrels are considered rodents. People armed with guns -- lots of people -- shoot them, and farmers are glad to get rid of them. There are even people who have elevated platforms on their pickups for providing a little better vantage point to shoot the varmints. What I'm trying to say is, it's very common.

The raptors there know that when the shooters are there, it's feeding time, because the shooters don't pick up the carcasses. They let them lie. And raptors of all types pick 'em up and eat 'em.

So where are the studies and stories about raptors dying in Modoc and Lassen counties (and eastern Oregon, and Wyoming, and so forth) from this lead poisoning?

In the interests of protecting the identity of the bird sanctuary people, both their location and names have been withheld in the following e-mail.

Hi David,
We were in dialogue regarding the ground squirrel hunt up in Modoc County and whether there was any lead contamination from this hunt with raptors. There is a eagle rescue center in (confidential) run by (names withheld). I gave them a ring. "X" said that they have lost five eagles from lead poisoning over the last four years. She said that they haven't had an eagle survive the treatment for the lead poisoning. She suspects hawks also are damaged from the lead poisoning, but said since they do this out of the kindness of their hearts, and the diagnostic tests cost $200, she couldn't prove that hawks were dying because she didn't have them tested . She states that wildlife officials have told her, off the record, that the squirrel hunt does damage to the raptor population. She said that she is frightened to go on the record with this data, and the name of the federal official, due to the fact that the squirrel hunt brings in much needed revenue in a very poor county. I ran across the same sort of reluctance when I covered the coyote hunt last year.
She said it would be fine for  you to call her regarding the issue of eagles, lead poisoning and the squirrel hunt. This phone call was off the record, but she stated she would go on the record if I were to write something up regarding this hunt. X said she would be happy to talk to you regarding the lead poisoning from  lead ammunition.
By the way, I liked your Sunday piece on the old man with dementia.
Allan Stellar 
And David Little's response:
Interesting. Thank you.
This was a good dialogue. I'm not expecting any retraction of David Little's position, but, maybe, just maybe, his position might stray from the They-are-trying-to-end-all-hunting to a position that pays attention to the merits and demerits of lead ammunition.

Addendum: Modoc County has a yearly coyote slaughter. I covered it earlier this year. Ground squirrels are prey for coyotes. Modoc County then has a Ground squirrel slaughter a month after they've had their coyote slaughter. That just doesn't make sense to kill the predator that controls the Ground squirrel population.  Only in Modoc County...

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