Lead-Free Success in CA

California condor in flight

It’s not all bad news these days, even for endangered species. Just last month the California Department of Fish and Game reported that 99 percent of hunters in the golden state followed a new regulation to load lead-free bullets. The rule, aimed at protecting the endangered California condor, went into effect last July.

This spring, Winchester will begin marketing lead-free .22 caliber ammunition that should help bring the figure near 100 percent. “We’re very gratified by the level of compliance,” says Dan Taylor, director of public policy at Audubon California. “The level that’s being reported exceeded our expectations.”

The lead-free ammunition is crucial to the health of condors, eagles and other animals that scavenge on carcasses shot by hunters. Taylor says he is hoping to see a positive impact from this regulation soon for the condors – although there is no data available yet.

And while the California condor is still endangered, 2008 was a good year. At the end of last year, 169 condors were in the wild, according to California Department of Fish and Game. It was also the best breeding year in California since reintroduction began in 1992, with nine pairs laying nine eggs.

The success in California also outstrips voluntary efforts in other states. Arizona has reported only 70 percent of hunters in that state use lead-free ammunition under a voluntary program. Taylor says that any real long term effort to restore condor populations must be accompanied by the complete removal of lead in the environment, and not just in individual states. “Lead in condor is just an example of the threat it offers to other wildlife,” he says. “We think the condor is a canary in the coal mine. A big canary.”

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