SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — How do you save an endangered California condor? Provide it with a clean and healthy food source.
That’s exactly what hunters in Utah and Arizona have been trying to do over the past few years. And, it looks like their voluntary efforts might be paying off.
The number of California condors treated for lead exposure in Utah and Arizona recently dropped to its lowest level since 2005. Between Sept. 1, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014, a total of 13 condors were treated to counter the effects of lead poisoning. During the same period the previous year, 28 birds were treated. The average over five years had been 26 condors annually.
“This is potentially exciting news,” said Chris Parish, project director with The Peregrine Fund. “We’re hopeful that the decreased measurements of lead exposure are a direct result of the hunters’ actions. With continued effort, we may well see a continuing trend of lower lead levels in coming years.”
Keith Day, a regional wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said condors feed entirely on dead animals.
“When they eat an animal that died after being wounded by a gunshot,” he said, “or they eat the entrails left in the field after a hunter has cleaned an animal he or she has harvested, they ingest lead fragments. If hunters use non-lead ammunition, the threat of lead exposure is non-existent.”
To help the endangered condors, the UDWR and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have asked hunters in southern Utah and northern Arizona to use non-lead ammunition. To offset the cost and encourage participation, both agencies have voluntary programs that provide hunters in core condor range with a free box of non-lead bullets.
The voluntary response from hunters has been impressive.
“We’ve operated a lead reduction program in Arizona since 2005,” said Allen Zufelt, condor recovery biologist for the AGFD. “Over the past seven years, more than 80 percent of our hunters have chosen to use non-lead ammunition annually in support of the condor program. Many others have removed entrails, which might have lead fragments in them, from the field after a successful hunt.”
Day and Zufelt said voluntary non-lead programs will continue in Utah and Arizona this fall.
The California condor recovery effort in Utah and Arizona is a cooperative program among federal, state and private partners. Those partners include The Peregrine Fund, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Strip Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Canyon and Zion national parks, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Kaibab and Dixie national forests.