State commission imposes lead ammunition ban to protect condor | SierraSun.com

State commission imposes lead ammunition ban to protect condor

Samantha Young
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” It will be illegal for hunters to possess or fire lead ammunition when they are in California condor habitat under regulations adopted Friday by a state commission.

By a vote of 3-1, the California Fish and Game Commission expanded the state’s lead ammunition ban in an effort to safeguard North America’s largest flying bird.

“It’s pretty clear lead poisoning is one of the major factors preventing recovery of the species,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s another step in getting lead out of the food chain.”

The condor was once found from coast to coast, but hunting, pesticides and development drove the birds to the brink of extinction. The federal government declared the bird endangered in 1967.

Scientists for years have said condors are poisoned when they ingest lead while feeding on the bullet-ridden carcasses of other animals. But regulators have been slow to act.

Earlier this summer, commissioner R. Judd Hanna said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration asked him to resign after he clashed with the National Rifle Association over pending condor protections.

Schwarzenegger signed a bill several months later that banned most lead ammunition, but the commission’s decision goes further.

Commission president Richard Rogers said the panel needed concrete evidence before it could act. That came this summer when a team of scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz, linked the lead in condors’ blood to that in lead bullets.

“The problem was we could never identify what lead it was because there are multiple sources of lead in the environment,” Rogers said. “Now we had a smoking gun and we were able to have direct connectivity between the lead in the bullet and the condor.”

The regulation bans hunters from using lead ammunition in .22 caliber or smaller guns ” often used to kill smaller animals like squirrels and rabbits ” that lawmakers did not include because there are no non-lead bullets on the market for those guns. Commissioners said they hoped their rule would encourage manufacturers to make alternatives.

The owners of antique guns and hunters who make their own ammunition must also carry nonleaded bullets or pellets when they are in condor habitat, an area that encompasses most of California’s central coast. Ammunition will be considered lead-free if it contains less than 1 percent lead.

The rules do not apply to game partridge and quail, or to game bird hunters or permits given to people to shoot nuisance or predatory animals.

In 1987, the last 22 wild condors were trapped and taken to zoos for a breeding program that raised their population to just under 300. Now some 200 condors are in the wild, with about 60 flying in California.

The regulation will take effect July 1, 2008.