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Get the Lead Out
California condor
Arizona Daily Sun, March 29, 2010

Banning lead shot no favor to condors
By Ron Sieg

While the Arizona Game and Fish Department agrees with the general theme of condor recovery in the March 23 guest column, "Save the condors by getting lead out," the Department disagrees with the philosophy and approach stated in the article.

The success of the condor recovery program has been dramatic since its original implementation in 1982. From a low of only 22 birds, the world population has grown to nearly 350 birds today. This includes more than 180 birds flying free in the wild with more than 70 of these in the Arizona/Utah population.

When considering Arizona's condor population, it is important that we remember how the reintroduction came to be. In the mid-1990s, a series of public meetings were held on the potential reintroduction of condors along the Arizona/Utah border. To gain the broad public support needed to implement the program, assurances were given that the reintroduction would occur under the 10(j) section of the Endangered Species Act. This meant that condors in Arizona would be established as a non-essential and experimental population, a status often assigned to introductions of endangered wildlife where multiple land uses exist. The 10(j) status requires that all "current and future land ... uses ... such as ... sport hunting ... should not be restricted due to the designation of the ... condors." Banning lead ammunition as suggested in this article not only would be a breach of trust with the people of Arizona who were given these assurances, but would also serve to lessen the broad public support the condor program currently receives.

While lead poisoning is the leading cause of condor mortality in the Arizona/Utah population, hunters have overwhelmingly proven they are wildlife conservationists who support the condor reintroduction effort. In the past three years, between 80 and 90 percent of hunters have voluntarily participated in a lead reduction program by using non-lead ammunition or removing gut piles from the field in the condor's core Arizona range.

Each year condors have continued to expand their range and spend more time in southern Utah, where a lead outreach and education campaign is only just beginning. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is working with Utah to launch a program in 2010 that is similar to Arizona's lead reduction efforts. We expect to see significant reductions in condor lead exposure once Utah's program is implemented, and the level of voluntary participation matches that of Arizona's program.

We cannot agree that a ban on lead ammunition is simple, effective or economical as was stated in the opinion piece. It is naïve to believe a lead ammunition ban will lead to 100 percent compliance and equate to less lead available to condors. California has taken a regulatory approach, yet they are still experiencing condor mortalities. Additionally, there are still issues with widespread distribution, and local availability and the higher cost of non-lead ammunition that make banning its use problematic.

Thousands of people get to see condors each year in northern Arizona, and hunters have played an important role in the recovery of this great species. Hunters should be commended for their willingness to take voluntary lead reduction efforts and be a part of the recovery. A regulation banning lead would violate the spirit of cooperation and trust that has been gained in restoring this magnificent bird to the landscape.

Ron Sieg is the regional supervisor in Flagstaff for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

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Photo © Paul S. Hamilton