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Arizona Game and Fish Dept. Tries to Spin CA Condor Lead Poisonings as "Success Story"
by Center for Biological Diversity
Wednesday Jul 2nd, 2014 7:20 PM
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.

The Facts
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

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Joe
Thursday Jul 3rd, 2014 2:18 PM
Everyone is on the same team. Trying to create this crony divisiveness does not help condors. The AZDGF has done a LOT for condors, and has a very successful voluntary lead ammo trade-in program. CADFG, LAZoo, SDZoo, OregonZoo, Peregrine Fund, and Ventana Wildlife are all working to help protect condors, whose largest challenge is continuing encroachment in their former range in CA. So while you quote facts trying to demean AZDGF, what about all the condors in CA that are LTF? Or the fact that the 2007 ban has been completely ineffective? People don't like being forced, but I guess that doesn't enter into your article firing shots at condor conservationists. Everyone is trying to meet the challenges.
I am also confused as to what the Center for Biological Diversity is doing for condors. Please list their field projects and funding campaigns.
Meanwhile, stop bringing down those who are out there trying to help condors get restablished.
As lead is phased out over the next decade, you should focus more on how the future of wind farms and cougar eradication will be devastating for long term CA Condor survival.
by Beeline
Monday Jul 7th, 2014 1:05 PM
In an era where government biologists are censored for attempting to tell the truth is not science more endangered than the condor? A real scientist considers a lot of possibilities and is not afraid to pose a lot of questions.

So why didn't condors suffer more in the 1950's and 60's when many more deer were shot by hunters in California? Is there any photo/video evidence of what the condors are actually eating?
Does anyone know for certain where condors are getting water and is the water contaminated? Did anyone doing lead toxicological studies have any training in firearms ballistics?

Is it responsible to assume that hunters using lead ammunition in violation of California state law banning its use, must be the cause, when the incidence of lead poisoning continues to increase. Could condors be getting lead/arsenate from pesticide application?

I have noticed that there is a new generation of lead toxicological studies published where birds are force fed lead pellets to determine how many it takes to kill them. Is that more humane than shooting one?

Too many decisions/conclusions have been made upon inferred evidence. The voters, tax payers , hunters and the condors deserve better.