California bans lead shot to help condors –big loss for NRA
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2007:
SACRAMENTO–California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on
October 13, 2007 signed into law a ban on hunting species classed as
“big game” and coyotes with lead ammunition in habitat used by
endangered California condors.
Schwarzenegger signed the bill a month after appeasing the
National Rifle Association by obtaining the resignation of former
California Fish & Game Commission member R. Judd Hanna, who had
urged the commission to ban lead ammunition.
The California Fish & Game Commission in February 2005
rejected two similar proposals presented by the Center for Biological
Schwarzenegger asked Hanna to resign one day after 34
Republican state legislators demanded that Hanna be fired.
Schwarzenegger had in February 2007 appointed Hanna to a term that
was to run until 2013. The NRA and Gun Owners of California
militantly objected to Hanna, himself a hunter, when Hanna
researched the effects of lead on wildlife and at an August 27, 2007
Fish & Game Commission meeting distributed 167 pages of his findings
to the other commissioners.
Said Hanna, in an e-mailed resignation statement,
“The information I shared has been accumulated over the last 25
months of listening to public testimony, reading the science, and
studying the issue. I have done a thorough job and listened
respectfully to all sides. The evidence is overwhelming. Lead from
ammunition is the primary cause of illness and death in the
“The matter at stake here is not my position on the
Commission,” Hanna continued. “It is the information itself. The
mission of the Commission has been deflected by a special interest
“This is going to be a big black eye for the governor,”
predicted Pamela Flick of Defenders of Wildlife, to Timm Herdt of
the Ventura County Star.
“This was a political lynching,” fumed Action for Animals
founder Eric Mills.
“Think of it this way,” wrote Humane Society of the U.S.
president Wayne Pacelle to supporters. “American businesses are
recalling toys produced in China because they contain traces of lead.
But in California, we’re supposed to sit still while the NRA loonies
go blasting lead by the bushel basket into the wildlife food chain?”
Center for Biological Diversity conservation advocate Jeff
Miller predicted after Hanna’s ouster that Schwarzenegger would veto
AB 821, the anti-lead bill, in an widely quoted e-mail to media
headed “California’s Message to Condors: Eat Lead!”
“The Condor Preservation Act is an important first step in
getting lead out of the food chain,” said Miller. “Lead is an
extremely toxic substance that we have sensibly removed from most of
our environment, including water pipes, gasoline, paint, and
cooking utensils. It only makes sense to protect our most imperiled
wildlife from harmful lead exposure.”
Schwarzenegger vetoed 58 of the 151 bills placed in front of
him during a marathon October 13 signing-or-veto session, but–after
getting hit by editorialists from coast to coast–he signed AB 821.
The California lead-free ammunition zone is to include the
coastal mountain ranges and the Sierra Nevada, but excludes the
Of the 127 California condors now alive in the wild, about
70 scavenge carcasses over parts of California, including most of
the mid-coast area, the most heavily hunted part of the state.
About a dozen California condors range over Baja California, in
northern Mexico, and the rest inhabit Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.
Ingesting lead birdshot and bullet fragments while eating
animals who were killed by hunters but not recovered has been
implicated in the deaths of at least 46 California condors since
reintroducing condors to the wild started in 1992.
California condors were federally listed as endangered in
1967, when the first U.S. endangered species list was created, six
years before the passage of actual endangered species protection.
California recognized California condors as endangered and began
formally protecting them in 1971.
Only 22 California condors remained when the last wild
specimens were caught for captive breeding in 1987. There are now
about 150 California condors in captivity.
“The impact of lead is unmistakable,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service spokes-person Jeff Humphrey told Associated Press in April
2007. “Lead at its current levels would keep us from having a
self-sustaining condor population.”
“No single step is more important for the condor’s future
than banning the use of lead ammunition,” Audubon California
executive director Glenn Olson told Los Angeles Times staff writer
Agreed Allison Alberts, director of conservation and
research for the San Diego Zoological Society, “Lead ammunition is
probably the leading factor impeding condor recovery.” The San Diego
Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and the Idaho-based Peregrine Fund have led
the reintroduction of California condors to the wild. The goal is to
establish separate populations of about 150 birds each in coastal
California and the Grand Canyon region. This is believed to be the
minimum necessary to keep California condors from again becoming
The new California law follows a series of lawsuits filed
since 2003 against the state Fish & Game Commission and Depar-tment
of Fish & Game for continuing to allow the use of lead shot. The
plaintiffs have included the Center for Biological Diversity,
Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social
Res-ponsibility, and the Wish-toyo Foundation, representing Native
A political turning point may have come in February 2007 when
Tejon Ranch president Robert A. Stine banned the use of lead
ammunition on the 270,000-acre property, the largest private game
preserve in California. About 1,800 hunters a year shoot deer, elk,
pronghorn, wild pigs, wild turkeys, doves and quail at the ranch,
60 miles north of Los Angeles. Unrecovered carcasses have attracted
California condors since soon after they were returned to the wild.
Long involved with the California condor recovery program,
former American Humane Association western regional office director
Gini Barrett served for several years as the Tejon Ranch director of
governmental affairs before accepting a faculty position at the then
newly opened Western University of Health Sciences college of
veterinary medicine, from which she recently retired. Barrett
acknowledged to ANIMAL PEOPLE on the eve of the official announcement
that securing the lead ban had been her primary interest in
representing the Tejon Ranch, a job in which she admitted feeling
The lead ammunition issue heated up after a sickly California
condor caught at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in July
2007 died a month later while undergoing treatment at the Los Angeles
Zoo. The condor reportedly had 10 times the safe level of lead in
his bloodstream. Zoo veterinarian Janna Wynne told media that the
source of the lead could not be identified. While lead ammunition
was suspected, an alternate hypothesis is that condors accumulate
lead from eating animals who have ingested lead dust left from
decades of use of leaded paints and gasoline.
“Governor Schwarzenegger is very pro-hunting and pro-gun
rights,” said American Bird Conservancy director of conservation
advocacy Michael Fry, looking ahead to efforts to ban lead shot in
other states, on behalf of other vulnerable species. “His signing
this bill is a confirmation,” Fry continued, “that this law is not
anti-gun. Non-toxic, lead-free ammunition is widely available.”
Researchers Derek Craighead and Bryan Bedrosian of the
wildlife research group Craighead Beringia South in September 2007
reported finding high lead levels in the blood of 302 ravens who were
captured in 2004-2005 at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Bedrosian subsequently tested another 200 ravens and eagles to
confirm their preliminary finding that the birds’ bloodstream lead
increases each year during hunting season. Craighead and Bedrosian
published their findings in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
Hunters have bitterly opposed efforts to ban or restrict the
use of lead ammunition for more than 30 years. Copper-jacketed
ammunition, used to shoot big species, costs about three times as
much, while many hunters believe steel birdshot is less accurate.
The U.S. government in 1991 completed a phase-out of lead
shot for waterfowling on federal property that had taken more than a
decade. Since then, about 75% of the lead shot used in the U.S. has
been fired at doves. A study of 3,000 mourning and white-winged
doves shot by hunters in south Texas in 1982-1983 found that about 2%
had lead shot in their gizzards.
“Studies in other states suggest overall lead shot ingestion
rates by doves are as low as 0.2% to as high as 6.4%,” summarized
Shannon Tompkins of the Houston Chronicle in March 2006. “In some
specific areas, as many as 20 percent of doves were found to have
ingested lead shot. Some doves were found to have ingested as many
as two dozen lead pellets.”
Of 157 doves who were fed varying amounted of lead pellets in
a Missouri Department of Conservation study, Tompkins wrote, 104
died within three weeks.
“If each of Texas’ 300,000 dove hunters were to fire only 16
shots a season, far below the real average, that’s about a pound of
lead per dove hunter, or 150 tons of lead each year,” Tompkins
Losses of lead fishing tackle also poison wildlife. The
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported in 2006 that even
though the anglers on five lakes lost only one lead sinker per 40
hours of fishing time, cumulatively they lost more than 100,000 lead
items amounting to at least a ton of lead in 2004 alone.
“From 1983 to 2004, the study estimates anglers left more
than a million pieces of lead in Lake Mille Lacs alone,” wrote
Duluth News Tribune staff writer John Myers. “That adds up to more
than nine tons of lead over 20 years. Scientists say a single lead
jig weighing just 1/8-ounce can kill a loon,” one of the more
vulnerable bird species not listed as endangered.
An accumulation of lead shot and tackle in the near-shore
estuaries of Whatcom County, Washington, and the British Columbia
portion of Puget Sound is believed to have killed thousands of
trumpeter swans since 1998, inhibiting the recovery of the species
from a reported Whatcom County low of 10. Whatcom County now hosts
about 1,000 trumpeter swans per winter.