TUCSON, Ariz.–(ENEWSPF)–May 18 – Conservation groups officially notified the U.S. Forest Service of their intent to file a lawsuit against the agency for its failure to protect endangered California condors in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest from toxic lead ammunition left behind from hunting activities. Lead ammunition is the leading cause of death for Arizona’s California condors — which are among the world’s most endangered species — and is completely preventable since nonlead alternatives are now readily available.
The groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council — provided the notice under the Endangered Species Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“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.”
California recently switched to mandatory nonlead ammunition for hunting in that state’s condor range; yet the Forest Service allows the continued use of lead ammunition in the Kaibab National Forest of northern Arizona, despite overwhelming evidence that lead ammo jeopardizes the survival and recovery of endangered species, including condors.
“Lead poisoning is a huge problem, not just for the condor but for other wildlife and even humans,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Nonlead ammunition is now available for virtually all hunting uses, including the 22 rimfire ammunition, previously thought to be technically infeasible. Our national forests should lead the way in protecting the magnificent condors of the Grand Canyon region from further lead poisonings.”
Condors were first reintroduced to the Vermilion Cliffs near the Arizona-Utah border in 1996 and were classified as an “experimental nonessential population” under the 10(j) rule of the Endangered Species Act. 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 to 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.
Hunting is allowed in most of the Kaibab National Forest, and no restrictions have been imposed on the use of lead ammunition by either the Forest Service or the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Conservation groups want to work with the Forest Service to develop a plan to require the use of nonlead ammunition in the Kaibab without having to file a lawsuit. If forced to file a lawsuit, the groups could seek an immediate ban on the use of lead ammunition in the Kaibab.
Find more information about the lead poisoning threat at www.savethecondors.org.