The Center for Biological Diversity and allies are preparing to sue the U.S. Forest Service for failing to protect Arizona’s endangered California condors from lead poisoning. A shocking 95 percent of the birds are affected by lead poisoning in Arizona and it’s their leading cause of death. When these sensitive, broad-winged birds scavenge carcasses shot with lead bullets that are left behind by hunters, they ingest the toxin, too — which enters their bloodstream and can cause painful death.
Officials in California — after many years of work by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies — mandated the use of nonlead ammunition in the state’s condor range. Unfortunately, in Arizona, lead bullets are still allowed to be used in the Kaibab National Forest, the home of the Arizona condor population.
“At a time when other agencies are stepping up efforts to get toxic lead out of the food chain, the U.S. Forest Service continues to bury its head in the sand, refusing to exercise its authority to protect wildlife on its lands and prevent the needless lead poisoning of Arizona’s condors,” said Jay Lininger, a conservation advocate with the Center. “If we want condors to survive, we must stop using ammunition that contaminates their food supply with toxic lead, especially on our national forests.”
These amazing birds, whose wings can span 10 feet and can live up to 60 years, were once so endangered that by the mid-1980s only 22 were left in the world. The Endangered Species Act brought them back from the brink. Still, with only about 400 condors in the wild and in breeding programs, the birds continue to need our help.
Condors were first reintroduced to the Vermilion Cliffs near the Arizona-Utah border in 1996 and were classified as an “experimental nonessential population.” Now more than 60 condors fly freely throughout the region, including the Kaibab National Forest, Grand Canyon National Park and lands in Utah and Nevada.
Since condors have been released in Arizona, at least 12 or 14 have died of lead poisoning, making such poisoning the bird’s leading cause of death. Scientists agree that lead ammunition used in hunting is the primary, if not the sole, source of the lead poisoning of condors, which often feed on carcasses and gut piles of game. Increasing numbers of wild condors must periodically receive emergency lifesaving treatment for lead poisoning. In 2006, 95 percent of all Arizona condors had lead exposure, and 70 percent of the Arizona population was treated. Condor experts have concluded that as long as lead ammunition is used in the condor range, recovery of the species is unlikely.
Check out the Center’s lawsuit press release and read about condors’ population boost in the Oregonian. Then learn about saving condors and take action to defend them from the National Rifle Association.
Photo of California Condor at the Grand Canyon courtesy of Flickr Commons/ag2k3