The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s nine-year-old voluntary lead reduction program is being hailed for the role of non-lead ammunition in recovering endangered California condors. The program is considered a successful alternative to a mandatory ban like California’s.
Discussions are taking place centered on making non-lead ammunition available in more calibers, expanding the availability and supply, and making non-lead alternatives easier to identify in retail settings. In particular, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is reviewing current restrictions on some non-lead ammo calibers that are not permitted to be used for sporting purposes.
“Arizona proactively implemented a voluntary non-lead ammunition program aimed at the main condor conservation challenge and it has been voluntarily supported by a demonstrated 80 to 90 percent of hunters. Voluntary participation is higher in Arizona than what studies have shown mandatory participation levels are in other states that banned hunting with lead ammunition. It is equally important that the ATF much more quickly reaches the necessary conclusions that will allow for the production of numerous additional calibers of non-lead ammunition so that we can further improve the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition in the field,” says Kurt Davis of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
Lead poisoning has been identified as the leading cause of death in endangered condors and the main obstacle to a self-sustaining population in Arizona and southern Utah.
Arizona Game and Fish started offering free non-lead ammunition in 2005 to hunters drawn for hunts in the condor’s core range. Since condors were reintroduced into Arizona under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act – the 10(j) Rule – that designates the population as experimental and not essential to the species’ survival, a mandatory lead ammunition ban is not permitted as it would restrict current hunting regulations in the experimental population area and the agreements made with local communities at the time of the reintroduction.
The condor is the largest flying land bird in North America. The birds can weigh up to 26 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 9 1/2 feet. Condors were first reintroduced in Arizona in 1996, and they now number 67 in the state.