Partnership fights for ban on hunting with lead ammo

Audubon California, The Humane Society of the United Sates, and Defenders of Wildlife joined forces to get a bill passed that would require the use of non-lead ammunition in all hunting of wildlife.

Organizations: Audubon California (San Francisco), The Humane Society of the United States (Sacramento), and Defenders of Wildlife (Sacramento)
Bill A.B. 711
: October 2012 – October 11, 2013
about $60,000

California bill A.B. 711 requires the use of non-lead ammunition in all hunting of mammals, birds, and other wildlife. Audubon California, The Humane Society of the United Sates, and Defenders of Wildlife joined forces to get the bill passed.

“Our three organizations worked together on a 2008 bill that limited use of lead ammunition in about 20% of California,” says Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director of The Humane Society of the United States. “A.B. 711 would extend this requirement to the rest of the state.”

Garrison Frost, director of marketing and communications for Audubon California, says lead poisoning is a leading cause of death among wildlife that feeds on animals killed by lead ammunition. In addition, lead ammunition that seeps into the food chain, watershed, and overall environment poses a broader treat to human health.

“The problem of lead in the environment has been a consistent wind in the face of conservation and wildlife protection organizations for decades,” Frost adds. “Given the opposition -- primarily the NRA and the National Sport Shooting Federation – our three organizations needed to partner to get something done. The goal was to pass the bill, period.”

The team broadened the issue beyond protecting wildlife to include the larger public health concern. Results of polling conducted February 26 to March 4, 2013, by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates confirmed the logic.

“The poll reflected that lead is universally known to be incredibly toxic,” Frost says. “It confirmed that we wanted to position lead as a poison.”  

Reframing the issue away from “gun control” to the human health and environmental dangers of lead also forced the opposition into a position of having to defend lead.

In early 2013, the three organizations began reaching out to reporters and editors throughout California with whom they have long-standing relationships to establish early support for the bill.

Democratic political consultant Robin Swanson also helped run media relations and garner editorial support for the bill.

Opinion pieces were written and distributed to all major California newspapers.

The organizations developed and shared content on their social media channels and with email subscribers. Examples include memes and facts that came out of the poll, such as California gun owners supported the bill.

“Telling individual animal stories works for our supporter base,” Fearing says. “I was notified of a golden eagle that was half-paralyzed from lead poisoning. I visited the bird and got photos and video of her. After three weeks of intensive care, she died anyway. We engaged the vet and told this bird's story and over and over, and it generated a lot of TV news stories.”

Fearing also regularly engaged California legislators and the Capitol press corps on Twitter.

The organizations used their websites to post evergreen information, such as related research and a link to a consensus letter about the dangers of lead contamination on the University of California's website that was independently created and signed by 30 lead toxicology scientists.

Bill A.B. 711 was signed into law on October 11, 2013.

The organizations reached a combined Facebook audience of nearly 2.3 million and a combined Twitter audience of 331,948.

More than 65 stories ran between August 11 and October 14, 2013, in outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Sacramento Bee.

In December, the three organizations jointly met with counterparts in other states to help prepare them for future efforts around getting similar bills passed.

“There will probably be a role for all three organizations in helping persuade the California Fish and Game Commission to take the most aggressive stance toward implementing A.B. 711,” Fearing says.

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