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July 15, 2009

Seeding the Story on Lead and Condors


With the California Fish & Game Commission nearing the August 6 deadline by which it will decide whether to expand a ban on traditional ammunition to include small game and upland birds in California condor regions, a story appeared yesterday whose timing bears scrutiny.

The Californian.com reports that a three-month-old, wild-hatched condor chick has tested positive for lead and says a condor official indicated . . .

the lead may have come from the carcasses of animals that may have accidentally swallowed lead ammunition . . .

That's way too many "may haves" on an issue which is reliant on sound science for a fair discussion and where unsubstantiated claims could lead to more bad policies that further erode hunting in the Golden State, reduce hunter-generated revenues that support wildlife conservation, and damage an industry that has contributed millions of dollars in to wildlife programs.

As NSSF has repeatedly noted, most recently in its June 25 news release, the ban against the use of traditional ammunition is not justified due to the lack of conclusive, science-based evidence that links the use of ammunition containing lead components to the health of the California condor.

The article demonstrates how inconclusive the math can be.

A blood sample found 18 micrograms per deciliter in the condor nestling. Daniel George, manager of the condor region near where the chick was hatched, said no guidelines for lead toxicity levels exist for condors (nor, to our knowledge, any other animals except humans). Given the absence of that baseline, scientists often use human thresholds, which are 10 micrograms per deciliter for a child and 25 micrograms per deciliter for an adult.  Yet, scientists determined that the blood lead level of the chick was not significant enough to require treatment even though it exceeded the level of concern for a child. First of all, it is inappropriate and scientifically unsound to apply the blood lead level threshold for concern established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for human children across species, and, in this case, those guidelines were not even used to recommend treatment.

We'll keep you posted on the actions of the Fish & Game Commission on August 6, and sooner if other news stories begin to suspiciously appear in order to nudge the commission toward expanding the current ban.

See other posts on this blog under the "ammunition" category, and also NSSF's background paper on traditional ammuntion.