Urban farming and unleaded hunting

Oct 21, 2013

The saying is (or was), “As California goes, so goes the nation.”

Whether good or bad, that potential makes what goes on in the Golden State worth tracking.

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a pair of bills that are historic in their own way. One bill provides for increased urban farming and tax incentives to landowners who help the movement grow, and the other has been called a de facto ban on hunting in the entire state.

The neighborhood farm

California recently passed a bill that creates what could be called “agricultural easements” within urbanized areas. The new law— Assembly Bill 551, Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act—creates the titular “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones” (UAIZs), as well as offering property tax breaks for participating landowners. UAIZs can then be used for small-scale, commercial or non-commercial production of crops or livestock.

Private owners of “vacant, unimproved, or otherwise blighted lands” within otherwise urbanzoned areas can be voluntarily turned into UAIZs. According to the new law, UAIZs, once contracted, must remain available for agricultural purposes for at least five years. Land eligible for UAIZ contracts must be at least 0.1 acres (4,356 square feet, or a 66-foot square lot) and can be no more than three acres.

Once a landowner contracts their property as a UAIZ, that property is taxed according to the average per-acre value of irrigated cropland in the state. If a landowner rescinds the UAIZ status of their land before the five years is up, they are subject to tax penalties.

The bill was introduced by California Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and was welcomed by urban gardening and slow food movement supporters. Both movements have taken hold and are growing in popularity and participation in California and metro areas around the country.

“This groundbreaking legislation gives cities and counties a great new tool that supports urban agriculture projects by helping them access land and have greater land security,” said Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

“I hope that San Francisco will be one of the first places to take advantage of the bill.”

According to Ting’s announcement of the bill’s success, a study by nonprofit group, Policy Link, found every dollar invested in urban agriculture returns $6 worth of food to the community.

Unleaded hunting means no hunting?

The other bill of interest— Assembly Bill 711—requires that California hunters switch to non-toxic (non-lead) ammunition by 2019. As might be expected, groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and Center for Biologic Diversity (CBD) heralded the new legislation.

“California has taken a historic step to protect its wildlife from lead poisoning,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Switching to non-toxic nonlead ammunition will save the lives of eagles, condors and thousands of other birds every year—and, importantly, will keep hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead. It’s great to see California lead the nation in getting lead out of the wild.”

“California has led the nation in creating humane laws, and today’s action by Governor Brown to eliminate lead from hunting ammunition is an incredible victory for wildlife and humans alike,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for HSUS following the bill’s signing by Gov. Brown.

“This commonsense law should serve as an example for the rest of the nation on the urgent need to stop releasing this dangerous toxin into the environment.”

But the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF), the trade association for the U.S. firearms industry, says the law is not about protecting animals or the environment from lead, but instead to end hunting. NSSF points out that alternative metal ammunition—which the bill’s supporters claimed is plentiful—makes up only 1 percent of the ammunition market.

Aside from the supply issue, NSSF also points out there are limitations on the creation and sale of alternative metal ammunition.

“Alternative ammunition made with brass can be classified as armor piercing ammunition that is illegal to make, sell or possess unless the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) grants special permission. As HSUS knows, ATF refuses to grant manufacturers the needed waivers to produce and provide alternative ammunition.”

NSSF claims the law will be costly to the state and to hunters. Hunters trying to comply with the non-lead requirements can expect to pay almost 200 percent more for ammunition, the group said.

“This bill will also cost California millions in lost revenue including federal wildlife conservation funding. Since 1937, the sale of ammunition and firearms used by hunters, sport shooters and gun owners has been subject to an 11 percent federal Pittman-Robertson excise tax that is the primary source of wildlife conservation (both game and nongame) funding in the U.S.”

NSSF continued, saying, “In 2012, California received more than $12 million in Pittman Robertson funds, ranking it one of the top five state beneficiaries. AB 711’s de facto hunting ban will drastically reduce California’s share of Pittman Robertson funds and critical revenues from hunting license sales as hunters are driven out of the woods or hunt in other states. The very ammunition the bill’s proponents demonize is what pays for wildlife and habitat conservation.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor