For Immediate Release, October 13, 2007
Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 845-2509
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Schwarzenegger Approves Historic Condor Protection Bill
Requires Non-lead Ammunition for Big-game Hunting in Condor Habitat
SACRAMENTO, Calif.– California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today approved an historic protection measure for endangered California condors, signing Assembly Bill 821 (Nava, D-Santa Barbara), the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act. The new law will require hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting big game and coyotes within the condor range in central and southern California, beginning July 1, 2008.
“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. “We are looking to the Fish and Game Commission to take the next step and ensure that non-lead ammunition is used for all other hunting activities in the condor range, and to phase in a statewide switch to non-lead ammunition to protect other wildlife poisoned by lead, such as eagles.”
The California Fish and Game Commission is currently considering several options for changing state hunting regulations to protect condors, which could go further than the Condor Preservation Act. Options include expanding the range of the non-lead ammunition requirement to encompass the historic condor range and implementing statewide regulations. The Commission is expected to vote on the lead ammunition regulations at its November 1st meeting in Sacramento.
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 12 condor deaths in California have been caused by lead poisoning, and dozens more poisoned condors have 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 poisoning of condors comes from ammunition fragments in 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 the lead that is poisoning condors.
The governor last month apparently forced the resignation of Commissioner Judd Hanna, a Republican and hunter whom he appointed in February, for his comments supporting lead ammunition regulations. Hanna was fired after 24 Republican legislators, at the behest of the National Rifle Association, demanded Hanna be removed. Schwarzenegger was expected to veto the condor legislation, but was widely criticized for caving to NRA pressure and firing Hanna.
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. The bill passed the state senate on September 5 (23-15) and the assembly on May 14 (42-32). In 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups petitioned the Commission to end the use of lead ammunition for hunting statewide, and in 2006 filed a lawsuit against the state for continuing to allow hunting with toxic lead ammunition that harms 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 as, or better than, lead ammunition. Federal law already requires the use of non-lead shot for waterfowl hunting, to prevent lead poisoning of waterfowl and 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.
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 poisoning from lead ammunition fragments is impeding the recovery of the condor and 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 proposes a coupon program to provide hunters within the condor range non-lead ammunition at no or reduced charge.
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 more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org