NRA Admits Ignorance of Basic Facts About Lead Ammo's Lethal Toll on Endangered Condors

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kierán Suckling, (520) 623-5252 x 305

NRA Admits Ignorance of Basic Facts About Lead Ammo's Lethal Toll on Endangered Condors

WASHINGTON - The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter today to NRA head Wayne LaPierre in response to an unusual request from the gun group seeking information about how lead ammunition poisons endangered California condors. The NRA has for years aggressively lobbied to keep toxic lead in hunting ammunition, but in its letter to the Center professes shocking ignorance about lead’s impacts on endangered California condors.

“The Center for Biological Diversity is happy to provide you with the requested information and be of service in bringing the NRA up to date on this critical issue,” wrote Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center. “At the risk of seeming too forward, may I suggest you deploy a small portion of the NRA's considerable resources to hire a wildlife biologist?”

The NRA requested information from the Center about a press release last month highlighting the recent deaths of seven of the 80 wild condors in the Grand Canyon flock in Arizona and Utah, three of which were definitively linked to lead poisoning from ingesting spent lead ammunition fragments.

The NRA professed ignorance of the recent lead deaths, the source and mechanisms of lead poisoning of condors, the magnitude of the lead-poisoning threat, the status of reintroduced condor populations, and causes of mortality for reintroduced condors. All of this information is publicly available and published on the websites of agencies and organizations affiliated with the federal California Condor Recovery Program.

“Instead of spending millions of dollars to game the political system, maybe it’s time for the NRA to invest in some scientific expertise on lead poisoning,” said Suckling. “Fortunately, there’s already a raft of good science to review. And leading experts in wildlife, toxicology and public health have stated that lead ammunition is dangerous to wildlife and risky for people. It’s time for it to be phased out.”

Background
California condors, the biggest land birds in North America, are also the most endangered. Of 166 condors reintroduced into Utah and Arizona since 1996, 81 have died or disappeared. When the cause of death could be determined, more than half were due to poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition fragments left in gut piles or carcasses of shot game. Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for condors in and around the Grand Canyon.At least 38 of these condors have been killed by lead poisoning, with many more deaths suspected of being linked to lead. Lead poisoning recently killed the female of Utah’s only breeding pair of condors. Each year, up to half of the Grand Canyon condors must be given lifesaving, emergency blood treatment for lead poisoning.

Millions of nontarget birds and other wildlife are poisoned each year from scavenging carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or from ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, mistaking them for food or grit. Spent ammunition causes lead poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals. Nearly 500 scientific papers document the dangers to wildlife from this lead exposure. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculates that despite the federal ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting, more than 14,000 tons of toxic lead shot are deposited in the American environment each year by upland bird-hunting alone.

Studies using radiographs show that lead ammunition leaves fragments and numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles that contaminate game meat far from a bullet track, causing significant health risks to people eating wild game. Some state health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of dangerous lead contamination from bullet fragments.

An April 2013 statement from 30 scientists, doctors and public-health experts from Harvard, Cornell, Rutgers and other universities concluded that lead hunting ammunition poses a serious danger to people and wildlife and ought to be phased out. Another statement from leading condor experts and toxicologists in 2007, Science Links Lead Ammunition to Lead Exposure in California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus), details the scientific chain of evidence linking lead ammunition to lead exposure in California condors and concludes the evidence is sufficiently strong to support a ban of lead ammunition in condor country.

A national poll released in March found that 57 percent of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting. More than 260 organizations from 40 states have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead in hunting ammunition. After the EPA refused to evaluate a formal petition to use the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate the toxic components of hunting ammunition, conservation groups filed suit in 2012. The NRA has intervened in the case, claiming the EPA does not have authority to regulate lead ammunition.

Get more information about the Center’s Get the Lead Out campaign.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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