(KCPW News) Conservationists are asking southern Utah hunters to load their guns with lead-free bullets. They say the switch could help save the endangered California condor, which is expanding its range northward across the Arizona border.
"We've discovered that a large proportion of the birds that die, die of lead poisoning. And by tracking back and seeing where they've been feeding, we've determined that this lead is coming from the remains of gun-killed animals," says Rick Watson, vice president of the Peregrine Fund.
After 12 years of tracking the birds in the wild, Watson says the group has determined the leading cause of death for the nation's largest land bird is small fragments of lead ammunition found in entrails and other remains left behind by hunters. Watson says this is toxic to animals, and the Peregrine Fund's research indicates it could also be a concern to people who eat wild game.
Watson says a program in Arizona has effectively reduced lead hazards for condors. He says about 80 percent of hunters there either use lead-free bullets provided by the state, or voluntarily remove all of the remains from the hunt.
"And the result is that the incidence of lead poisoning in condors has diminished tremendously. So, this kind of voluntary effort by hunters in Arizona has been very productive and very helpful," Watson says.
In 2007, no condors in Arizona were killed by lead poisoning, according to the Peregrine Fund. Watson says a similar program to reduce the use of lead ammunition in Utah's condor country is under consideration for next year.