Arizona Hunters Help Keep Condors Safe

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Hunters in Arizona are proving to the critics that voluntary efforts to conserve endangered wildlife do work. So far this year, 80 percent of hunters have taken measures to reduce the amount of available spent lead ammunition in the California condor's core range.

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. Studies show that lead shot and bullet fragments found in game carcasses and gut piles are the main source of lead in condors. Remains from game hunting provide an important food source for condors, but several birds can be affected by feeding off of one carcass or gut pile containing lead fragments since condors are group feeders.

"Many big game hunters on the Kaibab Plateau and Arizona Strip have voluntarily used non-lead ammunition to help condors since 2003, when Game and Fish began an educational outreach program," says Ron Sieg, regional supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Flagstaff office. "Although we've made great strides in reducing lead available to condors, we're asking more hunters to join the cooperative conservation effort to further reduce lead availability in condor range and to avoid mandatory measures."

Arizona Game and Fish, and its partners the Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, and the Arizona Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, ask hunters to continue sportsmen's proud tradition of wildlife conservation by using non-lead ammunition in condor range (Game Management Units 9, 10, 12A/B, and 13A/B).

Copper bullets offer hunters superior knock-down power, are less toxic, and do not fragment like lead ammunition. More than 90 percent of hunters agree that non-lead bullets perform as well as, or better than, lead bullets on game. Game and Fish started offering free non-lead ammunition in 2005 to hunters drawn for hunts in the condor's core range.

While these efforts have significantly reduced the lead available to condors, several challenges still remain. Radio tracking and visual observations this fall show that more than 60 percent of the Arizona condor population spent time foraging in southern Utah, which lacks a lead reduction program, during the fall hunt season. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is working with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to address the impact to the birds from spending periods of time in Utah.

In addition, access to non-lead ammunition poses limitations on the success of hunters' voluntary efforts. Ammunition manufacturers were unable to meet the demand this year for non-lead ammunition, as well as it is not available in all calibers. Many hunters were unable to find the non-lead ammunition needed for their rifles.

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 57 in the state. Visitors at the Grand Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs may be able to observe the birds, especially during the spring and summer.

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.