For Immediate Release, February 10, 2009
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Hunters Embrace Lead-free Ammunition Regulations
More New Non-toxic Bullets Available to Prevent Condor Poisonings
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Department of Fish and Game last week reported that so far, 99 percent of hunters in California have been in compliance with new state hunting regulations requiring the use of non-lead ammunition in the range of the California condor in central and southern California. Fish and Game law enforcement announced at the February 5 California Fish and Game Commission hearing that of 6,500 hunters contacted in the field since the new regulations went into effect last July, only 63 warnings and nine citations needed to be issued for illegal possession or use of lead ammunition in the condor range.
“The non-lead hunting regulations to protect condors appear thus far to be non-controversial and effective, as most California hunters seem to be doing their part to get toxic lead out of the food chain,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The California Fish and Game Commission should promptly announce a phase-in of non-lead ammunition for all hunting throughout the rest of the state to protect other wildlife poisoned by lead and to safeguard human health. Hunters can play a critical role in the recovery of the condor and also keep lead from poisoning the wild game they eat.”
The lead-free ammunition regulations are designed to reduce lead poisonings of the iconic and extremely endangered California condor. Condors, eagles, and other scavengers such as ravens, turkey vultures, and black bears can consume lead-bullet fragments and lead-shot pellets from carcasses of animals shot by hunters.
A higher percentage of hunters appear to be using non-lead ammunition in California under state regulations than the purported 70 percent of hunters in Arizona now using non-lead ammunition under that state’s voluntary program.
Non-lead bullets and shot made from copper and other materials are now widely available for big-game hunting in numerous calibers, and the shortages or prohibitive costs predicted by opponents of the regulations have not materialized. More than 150 types and calibers of non-lead rifle and pistol bullets and non-lead shot are available, and California Fish and Game has so far certified 17 ammunition manufacturers that provide non-lead ammunition suitable for use in the condor range. Significantly, Winchester Ammunition last month announced the availability this year of several new lead-free bullets in .22 caliber rimfire ammunition, which are widely used for shooting small game, plinking, and target practice, and were not previously available in non-lead. Opponents of the lead ban had claimed 22 rimfire bullets would never be feasible to make. A list of certified bullets, packaged ammunition and a map of the areas encompassed by the ban are available at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/condor/.
The California condor is one of the world’s most endangered species. At the end of 2008, 169 condors were flying free in the wild, 87 of them in California. In good news for the large birds, 2008 was the best condor breeding year in California since the reintroduction began in 1992, with nine condor pairs laying nine eggs and most hatchlings surviving.
Lead poisoning from ingesting lead fragments in carcasses has been the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors in California and Arizona. Since 1992, at least 15 condor deaths in California have been confirmed or 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. One condor died in California in 2008 of apparent lead poisoning.
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 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.
“It is important to note that there will continue to be condor deaths from ingesting lead ammunition fragments due to non-compliance and poaching until lead ammunition is no longer used in the state,” said Miller. “The best enforcement tool will be a statewide requirement to use lead-free ammunition.”
The Center for Biological Diversity organized a coalition of health, conservation, and American Indian organizations to launch a “Get the Lead Out” campaign in 2004 to eliminate lead from condor habitat. Assembly Bill 821, the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, signed into law in 2007, requires hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting big game (such as deer, elk, pigs, and bighorn sheep) and shooting coyotes within the condor range, which encompasses all or portions of 13 central and southern counties and seven deer-hunting zones. The California Fish and Game Commission approved additional regulations in 2007 expanding the non-lead requirements to hunting of non-game mammals and birds and prohibiting the use of lead .22-caliber and smaller-rimfire cartridges for non-game hunting in the condor range .
A recent conference sponsored by the Peregrine Fund, Ingestion of Spent Lead Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans, presented compelling scientific evidence of significant risk to human health, as well as harm to condors and other wildlife, from the use of lead ammunition for hunting. 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. Lead is an extremely poisonous metal – even very low levels can cause neural degeneration, digestive paralysis, brain injury, and mental retardation, especially in children.
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 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.