Leading condor expert: we can get rid of lead ammunition and save the condor

August 17th, 2013 · by Garrison Frost


Great piece in today’s Monterey County Herald by Kelly Sorenson of the Ventana Wildlife Society, one of the leading agencies doing hands-on rehabilitation of the California Condor in Big Sur. Sorenson notes how strange it is that his organization has been targeted by the NRA as an enemy, and notes that the lead ammunition problem can be solved without harming the practice of hunting in California:

The fear is that eliminating lead bullets would amount to a ban on hunting, but that hasn’t happened in the area where non-lead ammo is required. Not even close. Condors are still being poisoned because of lack of compliance with current law caused by an insufficient amount of alternative ammo on the market. Was paint or gasoline banned when lead was removed from these products? Of course not, and neither will hunting, just as waterfowl hunting in the 1990s continued despite the ban on lead shot.

(photo by Gary Kramer/USFWS)

Categories: Audubon California · Bird conservation · California Condor · Lead ammunition · Pollution

5 Comments so far ↓

  • anthony canales

    One of the problems with Kelly et al 2011 is that the “before” sample of birds tested involves areas on Tejon where a private initiative ban of lead ammunition was already put in place.

    Tejon banned the use of lead ammunition for all hunting effective January 1, 2008, to great public fanfare. This was 6 months before AB 821 went into effect, and has a biasing effect given the amount of hunting that Tejon constitutes for Kern County.


    Anthony Canales

  • Jim Matthews

    There is excellent scientific evidence that hunter compliance of the lead ammunition hunting ban has been exceptional. According to a study published in PLOS 1 (, there are simply no more lead ammunition issues for golden eagles or vultures in the condor zone — that alone would suggest great compliance.

    So it seems to me the real question should be: where else are condors getting lead? It is almost incomprehensible to me that we have NEVER done any kind of comprehensive condor food study. We’ve never collected droppings at roost sites for analysis and we’ve never had an effort to follow the birds with radios and actually get eyes-on to what they were eating — both very doable projects.

  • Anthony Canales

    Dear Mr. Frost,
    If you check with the USFWS, or perhaps with the Zoological Society of San Diego, the following Necropsy report numbers will provide you with some of the information regarding even “1″ incidence of copper toxicity related to mortality at levels comparable to some of the numbers noted for lead toxicity:

    Condor # 271- Necropsy # RP9548; Liver Copper level at necropsy- 531 ppm; Liver Lead level at necropsy- <1 ppm

    Condor # 101- Necropsy # RP8282; Liver Copper Level at necropsy- 128 ppm, lead liver level at necropsy- < 1 ppm

    Condor # 288- Necropsy # RP9564; Liver copper level at necropsy- 290 ppm; Liver lead level at necropsy- <1 ppm

    Condor # 197- Necropsy # 7779; Liver copper level at necropsy- 114 ppm; Liver lead level at necropsy- <1 ppm

    Condor # 285- Necropsy # 9558; Liver copper level at necropsy- 84.8; Liver lead level at necropsy- <1 ppm; Liver zinc level at necropsy- 1500 ppm (Note: this last
    appears to be where the condor seemingly
    ingested microtrash with both zinc and copper content. Leading candidate may be a penny, which is a known problem at the Grand Canyon. ).

    There is other program data related to copper toxicity and harm levels caused by copper exposure. It's obviously the last thing that those who are suggesting copper ammunition as "nontoxic" to condors want to discuss in the open, in my personal opinion.

    That is especially so in California and in US National Park Service lands in Arizona and Utah, where the condor is classified as a fully Endangered Species. Harm to a condor in California caused by copper bullet ingestion, which would result in copper exposure to toxic levels, would be just as serious a situation as any exposure to bioavailable lead.

    As for what is best for a bird that is being primarily re-stocked from captivity into areas without having done preliminary research on microtrash exposures (SoCal, Cencal, and the AZ/UT nonessential, experimental population), legacy DDE exposure (Cencal at least); and genetic bottlenecks related to a captive breeding program originally based upon 4 half-sibling females and 2 additional daughters from one of these primary 4, perhaps NRA does have something to bring to your attention under this circumstance.

  • Garrison Frost

    Again, lots of words and lots of red herrings. It is always a joy to hear how the NRA knows more about what’s best for the condor than the people directly responsible from preventing its extinction. The crocodile tears are priceless. And it would be fascinating to learn of even one instance of a condor — heck, how about any bird — that has been poisoned by copper anywhere near the levels that they’ve been poisoned by lead. Lastly … oh, forget it.

  • Anthony Canales

    Several of Mr. Sorenson’s comments above have yet to be sustained with objective evidence.

    There is no objective proof that hunters are significantly violating the Ridley-Tree Condor Protection Act.

    There have not been large numbers of convictions announced in newspapers, nor has there been copious press releases made by CA DFW to any arrests or convictions for hunting with, or even simply being in possession of lead ammunition, while hunting in the Condor Zone.

    Also, for Condor Team personnel to now use the “lack of availability” argument is interesting in that in places like Bass Pro and Turner’s Outdoorsman, loadings with Barnes’, Nosler E-Tip and others are more available in standard calibers because their price has always been roughly double of the standard lead loadings.

    Higher market prices always will have an effect on the large numbers of low and medium income hunters that have been adversely impacted by the current lead ammunition ban in California.

    But lastly, the reason why there is a clear threat to hunting posed by the Condor Program Partner’s position is that hunting and shooting stakeholders have obtained emails and documents through the Freedom of Information Act and through The California Public Records Act.

    These show, among other things, that the Program knows that copper is a toxic to condors , and that Condor Program Partners have discussed the need for copper dosing studies as early as March 2007.

    (Note: A large number of these documents have also been submitted to the California Fish & Game Commission as exhibits in public hearings. Many of these have also been presented to Legislators since more intense efforts had begun since 2009. ).

    Remember, it is copper ammunition that individuals such as Anthony Prieto (USFWS/City of Santa Barbara), Joseph Brandt (USFWS), Matthew Podolsky (Peregrine Fund), and Chris Parish (Peregrine Fund) are promoting in such films as the “Condor’s Shadow” and “Scavenger Hunt” for use in place of lead ammunition. In these films, it is specifically implied that it is “safe” to use copper ammunition when it comes to it’s exposure to condors.

    This is interesting in that comments in necropsies are starting to show toxic levels of copper in condors appear to be now occurring in concentrations as low as 90 ppm in liver tissues.

    If copper toxicity is at 90 ppm in liver, then what could be the “sublethal” effects limit? Hunting and shooting stakeholders have a right to be concerned here with the precedent being set.

    Unfortunately, Program Partners like the individuals in the Southwest Condor Working Group (representatives from USFWS, Utah DNR, Arizona Game and Fish, Peregrine Fund, National Park Service and BLM) have decided that investigating copper toxicity is “not a priority” as recent as May of 2012.

    In reality, the Program is pushing an incremental ban on hunting, through the ban of usable projectile materials. The concern that lead is just the first material to be banned is very real.

    Due to environmental regulations, including the RCRA-based theories discussed at the October 2011 Audubon Symposium at Lewis & Clark College of Law in Portland, Oregon, the start of a lead ammunition ban will give environmentalists a “camel’s nose under the tent flap” to ban lead and other metals for all other uses in hunting and shooting.

    Oddly though, if one wants to say that a group of individuals who, either intentionally or inadvertently, wants to set the stage for incremental disarmament by the banning of ammunition are an “enemy” (not my choice of words) of the Second Amendment, surely that is speech protected by the First Amendment.

    But it is also clear that after having done considerable research into what is said by the Condor Program members (including such partners as Audubon, Ventana Wildlife Society, various zoos and a number of the individuals and groups noted above) behind “closed doors” in their emails and other documents, hunting and shooting stakeholders are not “buying” what Mr. Sorenson and friends are trying to sell here.

    Opposition to AB 711 and any other future bans on ammunition (not only-lead based, but future bans on copper, tungsten, bismuth and steel) any where, any time, and any way will continue.