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Arizona Game and Fish Dept. Tries to Spin CA Condor Lead Poisonings as "Success Story"
PHOENIX— As part of a campaign opposing limits on toxic lead ammunition in the Kaibab National Forest, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish is asserting that the best measure of efforts to protect California condors from lead ammunition is not the number of lead-related condor deaths but the percentage of hunters enrolled in a volunteer program to reduce exposure to lead bullets.
“Anyone who suggests that the best gauge of success for protecting condors from lead poisoning is anything other than reducing the number of lead poisonings and condor deaths is not serious about preventing condor deaths,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s simply no justification for continuing to use ammunition that poisons the food supply for birds — and for people who eat game meat — when nonlead alternatives are readily available for all hunting activities.”
The Department put out a press release this week stating that “Arizona Game and Fish believes [the] voluntary non-lead ammo program [is] more effective than a regulated ban for endangered condors.” The Department is opposing efforts by conservation groups to have the Forest Service require use of nontoxic hunting ammunition on the Kaibab National Forest to prevent the continued lead poisoning of endangered condors.
The Department claims that California’s regulations requiring nonlead ammunition for hunting in the condor range have been ineffective and that Arizona’s program asking hunters to voluntarily use copper bullets or dispose of lead-tainted gut piles has been a success simply because, for the past two years, 88 percent of the hunters in Arizona’s condor range have participated in the program.
In California 11 condors have been confirmed killed by lead poisoning since regulations requiring the use of nonlead hunting ammunition in the California range of the condor went into effect in the fall of 2008. Necropsies are pending to determine the cause of death for two additional condors that died in California in 2013.
State game officials and experts with the condor recovery program believe that continued lead poisoning of condors in California is due to violations of state hunting laws by hunters and poaching, not due to any other potential source of lead.
In Arizona 15 California condors have been confirmed killed by lead poisoning in that same time period. Six other recent condor deaths are awaiting necropsy and 20 additional condors have gone missing and are dead of unknown causes in the Arizona/Utah region in this same time period. Experts with the condor recovery program believe that many of these dead and missing condors were likely killed or debilitated by lead poisoning.
To put it in context, as of May 2014 California had 132 condors in the wild; Arizona had 70. California's recent lead poisoning deaths represent 8 percent of that state’s wild population, while Arizona's lead deaths represent at least 21 percent of their wild population. Arizona condors have had nearly three times the death rate from lead poisoning as have condors in California since the California hunting regulations went into effect. Once necropsy results are known, the Arizona numbers could go much higher.
Statistics and mortality information are based on information published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the condor recovery program, as of May 2014.
Hunting is allowed in most of the Kaibab National Forest, and no restrictions have yet been imposed on the use of lead ammunition by either the Forest Service or the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Arizona Game and Fish has been encouraging hunters to use nonlead bullets — even going so far as to provide free copper ammunition to deer and elk hunters within the condor range around the Grand Canyon, since condors often scavenge remains of deer or elk killed by hunters.
But despite a reported 80 percent to 90 percent of deer hunters in the Kaibab using copper rounds, lead ammo is still used by some hunters, leaving hundreds of lead-tainted deer carcasses — plus an unknown number of lead-contaminated carcasses of other game — in the Kaibab every year. Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for endangered California condors in Arizona. Scientists have repeatedly warned that these rare birds will not recover until the threat of lead poisoning from ammunition is eliminated.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
July 2, 2014
Photo: Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, CA Photo: Kim Valverde/USFWS