For Immediate Release, September 5, 2007
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
California Senate Passes Historic Bill Requiring Non-lead
Ammunition for Big-game Hunting in Condor Habitat
SACRAMENTO, Calif.– The California Senate yesterday approved an historic and significant protection measure for endangered California condors, passing Assembly Bill 821 (Nava, D-Santa Barbara), the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, by a vote of 23-15. The legislation will require hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting big game and coyotes within the California condor range in central and southern California, beginning July 1, 2008. The bill passed the assembly on May 14 by a vote of 42-32, and will now go back to the assembly for concurrence in amendments.
“The Condor Preservation Act will significantly reduce lead poisoning of condors in California and is an important first step in getting lead out of the food chain,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Lead is an extremely toxic substance that we have sensibly removed from most of our environment, including water pipes, gasoline, paint, and cooking utensils. It only makes sense to protect our most imperiled wildlife from harmful lead exposure and also reduce the human health risk.”
The Nava bill was introduced after a coalition of health and conservation organizations, hunters and American Indians launched a “Get the Lead Out” campaign to eliminate lead bullets from condor habitat. In 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity and other coalition partners petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to end the use of lead ammunition for hunting statewide, and in 2006 they filed a lawsuit against the state for continuing to allow hunting with toxic lead ammunition that harms condors.
The Fish and Game Commission is currently considering several options requiring the use of non-lead ammunition for hunting big-game mammals, non-game birds, and mammals, including potential regulations for the currently occupied condor range, the current and historic condor range, and statewide. The commission is expected to vote on the lead ammunition regulations at their October or November meeting.
“We are pleased the legislature has taken the first step in addressing lead exposure, and we encourage the Fish and Game Commission to take further action and phase out lead ammunition statewide,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director with the Center. “Statewide regulations are needed to address lead exposure from other hunting besides big game, such as bird hunting and depredation hunting, to end lead poisoning of other wildlife species such as bald and golden eagles, and to safeguard human health.”
Seventeen condors statewide have suffered lead poisoning from feeding on carcasses of animals shot by hunters in recent months, and a condor died last month in southern California from lead poisoning. Condor #245 had blood lead levels 50 times the amount that would require emergency action for a human child and more than 10 times the amount to trigger treatment in condors. To reach blood-lead levels of this magnitude, a condor must ingest lead fragments directly.
At a hearing on August 27, the commission received overwhelming testimony from condor recovery managers, toxicologists, and the Los Angeles Zoo, where poisoned condors are treated, that ongoing poisoning from lead ammunition fragments is impeding the recovery of the condor, and that regulations requiring non-lead ammunition are needed. Ammunition manufacturers and hunters testified that numerous calibers of non-lead bullets are currently available for big-game hunting, ammunition manufacturers and retailers are capable of quickly responding to an increase in non-lead bullet demand, and the cost of non-lead bullets is not a significant factor that will deter or impede hunting. The Condor Preservation Act will initiate a coupon program to provide hunters within the condor range non-lead ammunition at no or reduced charge.
The California condor is one of the world’s most endangered species. Only 127 of the birds currently fly free in the wild, 70 of them in California. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors. Since 1992 at least 15 condor deaths in California and Arizona are known or suspected to have been caused by lead poisoning, and close to 100 poisoned condors required invasive, life-saving chelation therapy to “de-lead” their blood after feeding on lead-tainted carcasses. Five scientific studies published in 2006 provided overwhelming evidence that the lead ammunition poisoning condors comes from carcasses and gut piles left behind in the condor range by hunters. In July 2007 more than 45 prominent wildlife biologists signed a “Statement of Scientific Agreement” concluding that lead ammunition is the primary source of lead poisoning condors.
Safe, reliable non-lead bullets and shot made from copper and other materials are widely available for big-game hunting and perform as well or better than lead ammunition. Federal law already requires the use of non-lead shot when hunting waterfowl, due to widespread lead poisoning of both waterfowl and secondary poisoning of eagles. In a recent Peregrine Fund study of deer killed by hunters, X-rays revealed that lead bullets explode into dozens of tiny pieces. Half the deer carcasses were riddled with at least 100 lead fragments, raising human health concerns for those eating wild game shot with lead ammunition.
More information about the lead poisoning threat can be found at www.savethecondors.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org