Two weeks ago, state officials rushed a critically endangered California condor to the Los Angeles Zoo for symptoms related to lead poisoning. According to The Californian she was the female half of the only breeding pair of California condors in San Benito County, Calif.
She did not survive. Cause of death: ingesting lead ammunition left in the environment by sport hunters. In fact, lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for the critically endangered condor—another sorrowful reminder that this ammo keeps on killing long after it leaves the gun barrel.
Today, lead has been removed from water pipes, paint, gasoline, glass, pottery and a host of other items in order to protect people. A federal ban on lead shot in migratory waterfowl hunting was adopted nationally in 1991 after biologists and conservationists estimated roughly 2 million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets.
California lawmakers took action on the matter nearly two years ago, banning hunters from using lead ammunition on big game in the state’s condor habitat. The proponents of the legislation overcame the vigorous objections of the NRA, which fought selfishly for the right to continue discharging lead into the environment, even though they had non-toxic alternatives. Sadly, we’ll see other animals die in the months and years ahead because of the tonnage of lead they’ve left behind.
While the California legislation was important and needed, there’s just no excuse for the discharge of any lead ammunition in our day and age. There are alternatives to lead shot widely used by hunters throughout the nation. There’s no excuse for continuing to spread this toxic substance into the environment and put so many animals at risk.
Condors and other scavengers feed on the remains of animals shot and unretrieved by hunters, causing death up and down the food chain. Like asbestos, lead doesn’t just kill—but delivers slow, agonizing death.
Teddy Roosevelt is a patron saint in the hunting community, and he achieved that status not only because of his zest for the sport, but also for his foresighted leadership in the conservation of public lands. He probably did more for public lands protection in the United States than any other individual. But where is the leadership now in the hunting community? The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint and meek voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. They follow in the footsteps of Roosevelt in time only, but not in spirit or deed. They treat conservation as an historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights.
Lead shot is as basic a test as it gets. If you use it, countless wild animals suffer and die. If you adopt alternatives, then at least the incidental killing declines, and one day stops.