OCTOBER 23, 2013

Arizona hunters deserve recognition for voluntarily reducing lead exposure to California condors

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PHOENIX – Hunters in Arizona have proven their long-held commitment to wildlife conservation by voluntarily working to reduce the amount of lead exposure to endangered California condors, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department is encouraging all hunters to join the effort this fall.

In the last six years, 85 to 90 percent of hunters in Arizona's condor range have voluntarily either used non-lead ammunition during their hunts or, if they used lead ammunition, they removed the gut piles from the field. This year, Game and Fish is reminding hunters that if they have trouble finding non-lead ammunition, they can still support condor recovery by removing gut piles from the field that were shot with lead ammunition. Hunters that remove their gut piles (lead ammunition only) are eligible to be entered into a raffle that offers prizes including a trip on the Grand Canyon Railroad with a 2-night stay at the canyon, Cabela's gift cards, Navajo tribal lands deer tag, Navajo rugs, Grand Canyon National Park passes, and others.

California just chose a different approach to help conserve that state’s condor population. California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Oct. 11 mandating that hunters statewide must use non-lead ammunition. 

"Every state needs to take an approach that takes into consideration its own unique needs. In Arizona, we feel strongly that a voluntary approach works better than a mandated measure while still upholding the agreements that were originally promised when the condor reintroduction program was established," says Allen Zufelt, Arizona Game and Fish's condor program coordinator. "Achieving between 85 and 90 percent voluntary participation is a clear demonstration of hunters' commitment to condor management, and they deserve to be recognized."

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which coordinates condor management with Arizona Game and Fish, has also recently implemented a lead reduction program in southern Utah. As the condor population has become more established, the birds have increased their foraging area and now use southern Utah heavily during the fall hunting season. These two complimentary programs should greatly benefit condors.

Lead poisoning has been identified as the leading cause of diagnosed death in endangered condors and the main obstacle to a self-sustaining population in Arizona and southern Utah. Studies suggest that lead shot and bullet fragments found in animal carcasses and gut piles are the most likely source of lead exposure. Many hunters do not realize that the carcass or gut pile they leave in the field usually contains lead bullet fragments. Gut piles from animals harvested with non-lead ammunition provide an important food source for the condors and should be left in the field.

Arizona's condor population was reintroduced to the state under a 10(j) Rule, a special provision of the Endangered Species Act that designates the population as experimental and not essential to the species' survival. The 10(j) rule was used to obtain acceptance among communities in Arizona and Utah and assures that "current and future land…uses…shall not be restricted due to…condors" and that the federal government did "not intend to" modify or restrict "current hunting regulations anywhere…in the experimental population area." 

Information on non-lead ammunition and how hunters can help is sent by mail to those drawn for hunts in condor range. For more information on condors and lead and a list of available non-lead ammunition, visit www.azgfd.gov/condor