Condors’ Fate in Governor’s Hands

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The evidence has mounted in favor of a ban on use of lead bullets in the condor range – most recently here in San Benito County in July when two California condors had elevated lead levels in their bloodstream and were successfully treated at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Now that legislation to limit hunters to non-lead bullets in the range has passed the Assembly and Senate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign the Riddley-Tree Condor Preservation Act and put the endangered species back on track toward a recovery shackled by sickness and deaths caused by the unnecessary practice.

Some hunters argue validation in favor of the law is inconclusive and, therefore, their rights should be protected until more definitive proof surfaces.

Telling by the frequency of illness and deaths of condors with elevated lead levels, and considering scientists and wilderness experts have concluded the correlation is concrete, we have reason to believe a ban is necessary to assure the treasured species’ recovery program has footing to succeed.

The governor’s press office Tuesday reported Schwarzenegger had yet to receive the bill, and also that he had yet to take a position on it. He has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto the legislation.

We strongly urge the governor to take what amounts to a common sense stand on the lead bullet ban and sign the legislation with the following substantiation in mind:

n With a total, free-flying population of about 135 condors, 12 have died from lead poisoning since the program started in 1992, according to the Ventana Wilderness Society. That’s a conservative estimate, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which has reported at least 15 condor deaths linked to lead since the reintroduction began. It’s an astounding percentage, either number, standing to ultimately impede any chance for a full condor recovery.

n In July, a consortium of 44 scientists announced at a conference in Sacramento that lead ammunition has been the main cause for lead poisoning in the California condor population. Dr. Don Smith, chairman of the toxicology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, attested that isotopes found in lead bullet samples and in blood of condors were significantly similar.

n Locally, on top of the two condors poisoned this summer, 11 from Pinnacles National Monument, home to the county’s reintroduction program, had to be treated last summer for elevated lead levels.

n Finally, hunters have other options. They argue the ban proposal is a gun rights issue, that responsible hunters bury their gut piles, that banning lead bullets would hurt the economy.

This proposal has nothing to do with having the right to bear arms. Any effect on the economy would be minimal, at most. And if enough hunters had, indeed, buried their gut piles in the condor range, we likely wouldn’t even be having this debate.

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