The issue is, of course, not whether animals should die from lead poisoning, but rather, what the best approach is to address the problem of lead poisoning.
The environmental litigation groups headed by Suckling, Bahr, and Crumbo have taken the approach of suing in federal court to order the U. S. Forest Service to ban lead ammunition in the Kaibab National Forest.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department favors a different approach. Repatriation of condors in Arizona faced intense local opposition. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gained support by developing agreements with local parties, under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. These agreements constituted promises to local groups in exchange for their support. Some of those promises have since become the center of intense controversy. In the case of the condor, the USFWS promised not to seek the regulation of lead in ammunition.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department believes that agencies must live up to those legally-binding promises. Failure to do so risks the loss of local support, which can make or break critical programs.
Every in-the-field success in condor repatriation to date has been accomplished through partnership with fellow conservationists.
The Southwest Condor Working Group, which includes Arizona Game and Fish, The Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 24 other partners, has devoted countless hours and well over one million dollars annually to fieldwork and outreach programs. Today, 80-90 percent of Arizona hunters use non-lead ammo or physically remove big game gut piles from the field. Today, 77 condors fly free in Arizona-Utah where once there were none. Now Utah is emulating the very successful Arizona program.
The mandatory ban approach to the lead problem, conversely, not only has the potential to damage the valuable partnerships, it may even fail to produce the intended benefit. California banned lead ammunition in condor habitat, but a 2012 study suggests the ban has not yet proven effective.
The Southwest Condor Working Group is devoted to keeping condors in the wild in Arizona.
I was initially taken aback by the authors’ vitriolic characterization of the Arizona Game and Fish Department as an agency that shoots, traps and kills threatened and endangered species. In spite of the dramatic condor photo accompanying the opinion piece, virtually no public outcry or response occurred. Either the public saw through the diatribe or the public has grown so jaded, as a result of the name calling and never-ending environmental litigation, that their passion for wildlife is waning. For those of us who love wildlife and wild places and the sight of a condor majestically soaring above vermillion cliffs, that would be the ultimate tragedy.