In the debate over current legislation that would require nonlead ammunition for all hunting in California, opponents continue to note that lead levels in California Condors continues to remain at high levels despite a 2007 ban on lead ammunition in their range. They tout this fact as proof that Assembly Bill 711 isn’t necessary, but they’re undercutting their own argument by referencing the condor. Clearly, they don’t know much about the condor, and haven’t read the research.
Research shows that lead levels in Turkey Vultures and Golden Eagles have dropped within the California Condor range since 2008, but levels in condors persist. The reasons for this have to do both with the condor and with our failed efforts thus far to reduce lead from ammunition in their range.
Published science is absolutely conclusive that the primary source of lead poisoning in condors is ammunition. This is due to isotopic comparison of lead in condors matches that from ammunition, identification of actual buckshot and bullets found in poisoned condors, and tracking sick condors back to carcasses that have lead in them.
Condors are incredibly efficient scavengers, covering a wide range and identifying numerous sources of food. This range is far greater than that of the Turkey Vulture or the Golden Eagle. Probability indicates that even if only 1% of carcasses contain lead, there’s a 50% chance that a condor will encounter that source in a year. If only 5% of the carcasses contain lead, the probability that a condor will encounter lead increases to nearly 100%. (See page 5 of the above-referenced study)
And it only takes that one encounter to sicken or kill a condor. Moreover, condors are flocking animals, increasing the chances that a single source of lead will poison multiple birds.
Lead ammunition continues to be a problem in the condor range for a number of reasons. Compliance with the 2008 law is far from universal, due to limited enforcement and inadequate hunter education. And poachers in the range are likely still using lead.
Condors continue to be poisoned for the simple reason that we haven’t done enough to remove lead ammunition from their environment. AB 711 is the latest in a series of efforts to accomplish this. Earlier measures – including public education, voluntary bans, and AB 821 – have thus far failed to eliminate the threat from lead ammunition for the condor. Clearly, we have tried measures that required less effort on our part, but these have failed.
This said, the California Condor is not the sole reason we are advancing AB 711. We are also deeply concerned about the danger that lead ammunition poses for other wildlife, as well as public health.