Herdt: California condors caught in NRA crossfire

  • FILE - A juvenile California Condor tries out his new freedom with a short flight over the Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona. The California condor continues to suffer from lead poisonings, shootings and interactions with humans since being introduced in southern Utah and northern Arizona in the mid-1990s, with little more than half of those released into the wild still alive. (AP Photo/Jeff Robbins, File)

The California condor has survived many threats during the 12,000 years of its existence: an ice age, the extinction of long-ago contemporaries such as the woolly mammoth, human development upon its habitat and the near-death experience of having the population of its species decline to single digits in 1987.

But today the California condor may be facing its most formidable threat yet: the National Rifle Association.

A move is under way in the California Legislature to ban the use of lead ammunition in all types of hunting. One motivation is protection of the California condor.

But there is more to it than that. Environmental organizations and animal-protection groups regard a ban on lead ammunition as the next logical step in a regulatory march to reduce sources of lead in the environment.

The federal Centers for Disease Control says there is no safe level of human exposure to lead, and it has been removed from paint, gasoline and other consumer products. In the hunting arena, lead shot was long ago banned in the hunting of water fowl, based on concerns about lead accumulating in sources of drinking water.

Momentum seems to be developing to also prohibit lead bullets used in hunting large game. It follows passage of a California law in 2007 that barred the use of lead ammunition in large swaths of the state where the condor is known to scavenge.

Those on both sides of this year's debate over Assembly Bill 711 believe that this could become another one of those instances in which if California acts, other states might follow.

Jennifer Fearing, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, says there are no immediate plans to move into other states. She does note, however, that her organization "isn't interested in stopping lead poisoning only in California."

A sense of inevitability is building, not unlike in the run-up to California becoming the first state to ban cigarette smoking in public places in 1995, at a time when some still sought to discredit research into the health dangers of secondhand smoke. Such bans are now in place in 28 states.

The NRA, hoping to stop this potential lead-free movement before it starts, has launched an operation called "Hunt for Truth," which features a website that seeks to discredit all manner of scientific conclusions about the risks of lead ammunition to wildlife and to humans who eat the meat of hunted game.

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