California Condor
California condors huddle around a watering hole in the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
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By Larry Keane

California banned the use of traditional ammunition statewide in 2019, but anti-hunting activists continue to blame traditional ammunition made with lead components for the deaths of the scavengers.

Mike Stake, a wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society in California, told KCBX that of the 13 deaths of California condors in 2020, nine were attributed to lead poisoning. Anti-hunting activists have long blamed traditional ammunition for the condor deaths. They theorize that these scavengers would feed on animal carcasses or even gut piles left behind by hunters ingesting lead fragments from hunters’ ammunition as the source of lead poisoning.

That caused California lawmakers to pass a law in 2013 that began a phased traditional ammunition ban for all hunting in California. The ban was fully implemented statewide by July 1, 2019.

For two years, no hunters have been allowed to use anything but more expensive alternative ammunition. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reported 98.89% hunter compliance with the regulation. If hunters aren’t using traditional ammunition, how do anti-hunting activists still blame traditional ammunition for lead poisoning in California condors?

Are Hunters to Blame?

Ventana Wildlife Society didn’t study why condors are still getting sick from lead, despite it being banned for hunting. Instead, they speculate. Without proof, Stake told KCBX that hunters must be skirting the rules since ammunition is in high demand these days.

Nolser lead-free ammunition ammo
Courtesy Nosler

“But the law does permit the sale and purchase of lead ammunition because it’s still legal to use in target ranges where wildlife is not the target,” KCBX reported. That’s right. They are now saying condors must be consuming lead from hunters who break the law, even though California authorities say this isn’t the case, or condors are eating lead out of the berms and fields of gun ranges.

That’s a stretch — one that’s unsupported by any science — but not one that anti-hunting and anti-gun activists haven’t already made. The original data upon which California based the law to ban traditional ammunition for hunting is suspect.

The Hunt for Truth Association pored over the reports submitted to California lawmakers and found they were deeply biased. The condor population did crash, but it wasn’t due to hunters using traditional ammunition. A combination of habitat destruction and the “use of DDT, other organochlorine pesticides, and certain rodenticides throughout the remaining condor habitat in Central and Southern California had serious and significant impacts on condor populations.”

The group’s research looked directly at data regarding condor consumption of lead. It found that it wasn’t as easy as singling out lead fragments from animal carcasses leftover by hunters.

Questioning Data

“While some researchers maintain that lead ammunition from gut piles or game carrion left in the field by hunters is the primary source of lead exposure to condors, there is compelling evidence of alternative sources of lead in the environment,” Hunt for Truth reported. “Such alternative sources of lead include paint chips from old buildings, legacy leaded gasoline in soils, mining wastes, old insecticides and microtrash.”

Two condors that were studied were actually observed eating paint chips from a fire lookout tower. Those condors were later observed regurgitating those paint fragments to feed their chicks.

“Rarely, if ever, has an actual projectile fragment been found in the digestive tract of a California condor,” the report continued. “However, objects that were thought to be projectile fragments were subsequently found to be pieces of gravel or a ‘woody’ substance, not from ammunition.”

Hunt for Truth didn’t pull punches on questioning the studies.

“Hunt for Truth has discovered that many of these researchers ‘cherry-picked’ this information, deleting it and often refusing to present the underlying information to scientific peer review, policymakers and the public at large. This activity by the researchers calls their very claims and conclusions into serious question,” the group stated in the report.

California condor
A California condor takes flight in the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Information about condor deaths was intentionally suppressed by the Obama-era U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and not provided to California legislators when they were considering expanding the ban statewide because it did not support the narrative that hunters were to blame.

Still, falsely blaming hunters for using traditional ammunition two years after the ban was in effect even after California authorities conclude hunters are complying isn’t just bad form. It’s bad science. Making unsubstantiated claims based on hearsay is antithetical to setting science-based policies.

California hunters stopped using traditional ammunition two years ago. If condors are still getting sick from poisoning, it’s not because carcasses have been lying in the wild for over two years. Something else is going on and it’s time anti-hunting activists come clean on their agenda.

Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. ““Hunt for Truth has discovered that many of these researchers ‘cherry-picked’ this information, deleting it and often refusing to present the underlying information to scientific peer review, policymakers and the public at large. ”

    Well lookie here, they are using the ‘Gun Control’ handbook for research. Exactly matches the pattern of anti-gun and gun control research.

  2. Eating paint chips, how hungry are them birds?
    Hunters boolits, maybe, I’d say it’s more of all the chemicals we use to keep food production up, the water with all of the contaminants in it now.
    Okay, I’ve been studying the muscle clam for years. I’ve seen a big decline in their populations, shells are getting thinner and hundreds of dime sized ones dead on the gravel bars. I noticed this with the continued use of Roundup Ready, other herbicides and fertilizer. Runoff is polluting our water supply, “they” will never admit or stop it because we must feed the world, a world over populated with the weakest species on earth, the human.
    Tomatoes used to have some flavor, now their just red. Grow faster grow more, keep dumping the fertilizer until the ground gets so hot you’ve got to lime it.
    360 acres dig all you want, you’ll not find one earth worm.
    Its hunters and the lead boolits.

    • “Tomatoes used to have some flavor, now their just red.”

      How very true. I said this very thing to my wife last night at dinner.

  3. Natural selection, should we really be so concerned about a bird that can’t tell the difference between paint chips and a worm?
    Just thinking out loud you know.

    • The state of CA is overrun with homeless. Our schools are failing. Our public services are damn near 3rd world.

      We do not have the resources to waste trying to save a buzzard.

  4. Mike Stake, did any of those 13 condors test positive for covid? According to the local news sources, the only thing killing anything in CA is the unvaxed and ghost guns.

  5. Hitler was a vegetarian socialist and non-smoker. He passed the first anti-smoking laws in the western world. His belief system lives on in the minds of socialist democrats in California.

  6. California legislators do not care about the science. They only care about banning hunting. And guns, they care about banning ALL guns, if they could only figure out a way to do so. Classic example: one of the board of the California Fish and Wildlife was forced out after he LEGALLY hunted a cougar IN ANOTHER STATE. (California banned hunting cougars/mountain lions/pumas, whatever, years ago except for depredation permits due to a crashing population.)

  7. “…13 deaths of California condors in 2020, nine were attributed to lead poisoning”

    Just 9?

    I guess I better spread that ‘Acme Bird Seed’ (;)) around a little more then.

  8. Paint chips from fire towers, eh? Real or contrived, I foresee a lead paint removal mandate on the horizon. Lead amelioration is big money. Bend over again Californians, here it comes again…

    • Oh we have that, but it doesn’t apply to the towers on federal land, of which we have millions if acres. Some of those towers are so old as to be historic.

  9. Condors are really just a version of buzzards- they often eat road kill. Road kill is found by the side of the road. So are lead wheel weights. Lots of ’em.

  10. Liberals will never let facts get in the way of their agenda. There needs to be a law against official science research that cherry picks the facts. It should be considered falsifying evidence, especially since some of this data can be used on legal or political grounds. Hunters in California should sue the scientists who did this since the cherry picking of data resulted in laws that made hunters have to pay more for ammo. As I noted above, the scientist should also be held legally responsible as they intentionally falsified their data that resulted in said laws.
    Finally, Obama strikes again. Is there no end to the corruption that came from that administration. Why isn’t that man on trial for all the illegal things his administration committed. I was going to say Obama was the worst president ever, but with Biden in office, Obama is a close second.

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