California Votes to Ban Lead Ammunition

The California Senate recently passed legislation to ban lead ammunition that is poisoning endangered California Condors. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava is designed to protect condors by requiring hunters to use non toxic ammunition for hunting deer and wild pigs and varmints, so that condors, which are scavengers, will not consume lead particles in any carcasses not recovered or left in the field. The measure also creates a program that would provide coupons to hunters venturing into condor territory that subsidize the cost of lead-free, copper bullets.

"American Bird Conservancy applauds the California Senate?s action and urges Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the lead-ammunition ban into law to protect the California Condor," said Dr. Michael Fry, American Bird Conservancy?s Director of Conservation Advocacy who testified before the California Fish and Game Commission and advocated on behalf of the legislation. "With alternative ammunition now available for hunting that doesn?t use lead ? there is no logical basis on which to oppose this ban."

The California Fish and Game Commission held a hearing August 28 on the proposed ban. Commissioners indicated they support opening a public comment period so that a decision to enact a ban can be made at the commission?s Nov. 1 meeting.

Five condors recently were poisoned from acute lead contamination after the birds fed on a pig carcass killed by hunters near the Pinnacles National Monument, where condors have been recently released into the wild. An additional condor died of lead poisoning last week, after being discovered by biologists in a separate incident near Bittercreek National Wildlife Refuge in central California.

"There are less than 300 California Condors in existence," said Dr. Fry. "We can?t afford to lose even one ? particularly when that loss is easily preventable."

There have been 276 documented cases of lead poisoning of California Condors not including this most recent example. In 2006 biologists trapped 11 condors at Pinnacles National Monument in California that were seen feeding on squirrels known to have been shot with lead ammunition. They were temporarily housed in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo while their blood was tested for traces of lead and they were X-rayed to identify lead fragments in their digestive tracts. Any birds testing positive for lead were given calcium-EDTA to help them eliminate the heavy metal from their systems, and some underwent surgery to remove lead pieces from their crops.

Although lead shot is outlawed for the hunting of waterfowl, lead rifle bullets and .22 rim-fire ammunition are still permitted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified lead in ammunition as a significant threat to condors.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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