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Lead bullet ban to help protect endangered bird

BY DAVID BURGER, Californian staff writer | February 23, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- For the benefit of the endangered California Condor, Tejon Ranch officials announced Friday they soon will no longer allow lead ammunition on their 270,000 acres.

The move, announced at a press conference with Audubon California, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other officials, doesn't affect many people -- only about 1,800 hunters use the land annually.

But ranch President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Stine said the ranch -- the largest contiguous landowner in the state -- is the first entity in the state to voluntarily discontinue the use of the bullets that activists say are the biggest threat to condors.

Taking the lead on lead

Condors are especially susceptible to lead poisoning that results from the large birds scavenging the remains of carcasses and carrion from animals killed by lead bullets, said Jesse Grantham, condor recovery coordinator of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service.
Stine reminded the audience that the ranch's mission is, "Preserving California's Legacy, Providing for California's Future," and added: "Part of that providing for the future is providing for the condor."

After reaching a low of about 22 California condors worldwide in the 1980s, the condor population has risen to nearly 300 since then, Grantham said.
Of those, more than half live in captivity, and about 70 condors fly freely over California, said Steve Thompson, regional director of the Fish & Wildlife Service.
Tejon Ranch is in the middle of the condor's migration pattern in California, ranch representatives said. It is also home to the state's largest private hunting program.

Officials speaking at the announcement predicted the ranch's move should spur other organizations and land-managers to call for the ban of lead bullets.
"(The ban) is absolutely critical to the long-term survival of the California condor," said Glenn Olson, vice president and executive director of Audubon California.
Joel Reynolds, director of the urban program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Tejon Ranch has now set a statewide example for conservation. The ranch, he added, is a "cathedral" for the condor.

The requirement to use non-lead ammunition will begin at the start of the 2008 hunting season. At the ranch, animals hunted include deer, elk, antelope, wild pigs, wild turkeys, coyotes, squirrel, pigeons, doves and quail.

Other bullets

A "Lead and the California Condor" pamphlet, put out by the Fish & Wildlife Service and passed out at the conference, stated "today it is widely acknowledged that a superior non-toxic bullet is available" and hunters "have been extremely satisfied and recommend it as a suitable alternative to lead."
Joe Dandy, a sales representative for Bakersfield's Second Amendment Sports, said most of the bullets they sell and have in stock contain lead. Only a few manufacturers make copper bullets, so they are "hard to come by" and a "bit more expensive."

Dandy added that ballistically, copper can be superior to lead, and that lead-free bullets and primer are better for the environment and for people who could inhale the lead primer when shooting.

The day also wasn't free of more controversy. The Center for Biological Diversity released a statement in the afternoon praising the switch to lead-free ammunition, but further criticized the ranch's nascent plan of urban development in part of the ranch.

"We applaud Tejon Ranch's decision to get the lead out for condors, and if the state's largest private landholder can go lead-free, then the rest of California should be able to follow suit," Jeff Miller with the center said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the urban-sprawl developments planned for Tejon Ranch are also a gun to the head of condor recovery efforts."

"Tejon's proposed 28,500-acre Tejon Mountain Village will devastate the heart of the condor's critical habitat," said center biologist Ileene Anderson.

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