For Immediate Release, December 10, 2007
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Adam Keats, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 845-2509
California Game Commission Expands Non-lead Ammo
Hunting Requirements in California Condor Range
Additional Regulations for Non-toxic Bullets Will Help Prevent Condor Poisonings
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Fish and Game Commission Friday approved additional hunting regulations for 2008 that expand the requirements for hunters in central and southern California to use non-lead ammunition for hunting activities in the range of endangered California condors. The Commission voted 3-1 to implement the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, passed by the state legislature in September and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October, and went several steps further by requiring non-lead ammunition for additional hunting activities not regulated by the Condor Preservation Act.
The Condor Preservation Act already requires hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting all big game (such as deer, elk, pigs, and bighorn sheep) and shooting coyotes within the condor range in central and southern California, beginning July 1, 2008. The Commission’s new regulations also prohibit lead ammunition for hunting non-game mammals and non-game birds in the condor range. They also prohibit the use of lead .22-caliber and smaller-rimfire cartridges for hunting non-game birds and mammals in the condor range, which had not been forbidden under the Condor Preservation Act.
“The recent decisions of the Commission and the legislature will significantly reduce lead poisoning of condors in California and are a further step in getting toxic lead out of the food chain,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We will be working to ensure that all remaining hunting activities in the condor range go lead-free and will push for a statewide switch to non-lead ammunition to protect other wildlife poisoned by lead, such as eagles, and to safeguard human health.”
The hunting activities not covered by the new Commission regulations or the Condor Preservation Act are hunting of resident small game birds and mammals (such as rabbits, tree squirrels, quail, doves, and grouse), hunting of furbearing mammals, and some depredation killings (shootings of predators and “nuisance” animals). The Department of Fish and Game earlier this year announced a new policy requiring all depredation permits issued in the condor range to have a requirement for using non-lead ammunition. However, the Department has not yet changed the state regulations regarding allowable ammunition for depredation killing.
The Commission’s regulation of .22-caliber ammunition is significant, since non-lead rimfire ammunition does not currently exist — although a non-lead .22 centerfire round does. The regulation will very likely spur rapid development of non-lead .22 rimfire rounds by ammunition manufacturers. Condors in Pinnacles National Park have been poisoned by lead recently after feeding on wild pigs and ground squirrels shot with lead .22 rimfire ammunition.
The Commission defined “non-lead ammunition” as ammunition with projectiles containing less than one percent lead by weight. Copper and other metals used for non-lead ammunition rounds can contain trace levels of lead. The Commission will refine the maximum allowable lead content for non-lead bullets in consultation with ammunition manufacturers, scientists, and the public. The regulations also establish that it will be unlawful to possess any lead ammunition while hunting in the condor range.
The California condor is one of the world’s most endangered species. Only 148 of the birds currently fly free in the wild, 69 of them in California. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors. Since 1992 up to 13 or more condor deaths in California are linked to 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.
Scientific studies provide overwhelming evidence that the lead poisoning condors comes from ammunition fragments in carcasses and gut piles left behind in the condor range by hunters. In July 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 Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of health and conservation organizations, hunters, and American Indians launched a “Get the Lead Out” campaign in 2004 to eliminate lead bullets from condor habitat.
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 in the study were riddled with at least 100 lead fragments, raising human health concerns for those eating wild game shot with lead ammunition.
At a hearing in August, 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 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 proposed a coupon program to provide non-lead ammunition for hunters within the condor range 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