Lead is by far the leading cause of death for the remaining 234 California condors in the wild, which live in California, Baja California, Arizona and Utah. U.S. Fish and Wildlife records show the mature male that died in November was found inland from Big Sur on a ranch near Pinnacles National Park in southern San Benito County. Eight others are in wildlife hospitals, three with confirmed lead poisoning, federal officials say.
"Ground squirrels and coyotes are typically shot and left in the field, so it seems logical that there is a high potential for scavenger lead poisoning in areas with this type of shooting compared to other areas," said Kelly Sorenson of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which runs the Big Sur recovery program and gives away lead-free bullets.
Critics say the continuing problems with lead poisoning in California's condor territory show that lead bullet bans there don't work — and neither would a statewide ban.
Supports of the bill — including the Audobon California, the Humane Society of the United States and the Defenders of Wildlife — say it closes an important loophole that condor experts believe could be the reason that condors continue to be poisoned: it would require ranchers and farmers — who shoot wild pigs, coyotes and other varmints that don't require hunting permits— also to use lead-free bullets.
"There are gaps in the prohibition with depredation being one and private ranching being another," said John McCamman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condor coordinator. "And the other thing that nobody talks about is the poaching that goes on, and they probably don't care that there's a lead prohibition."
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