Three environmental groups are proposing to sue the U.S. Forest Service, saying the agency needs to ban lead ammunition used for hunting in the Kaibab National Forest north of Grand Canyon because it kills endangered California condors.
"At a time when other agencies are stepping up efforts to get toxic lead out of the food chain, the U.S. Forest Service continues to bury its head in the sand, refusing to exercise its authority to protect wildlife on its lands and prevent the needless lead poisoning of Arizona's condors," said Jay Lininger, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "If we want condors to survive, we must stop using ammunition that contaminates their food supply with toxic lead, especially on our national forests."
There is not much debate that consumed lead -- sometimes in bullet fragments left in remains of hunted animals -- kills condors.
Some 22 California condors have died from lead poisoning since the mid-90s, and those that track them test their blood for it routinely.
From 50 percent to 95 percent of the birds in Arizona have tested positive for lead in the blood in past years, and some have required treatment to remove it.
The conservation groups here contend that allowing trends like these to continue amount to a violation of the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Forest Service for allowing hunters to use bullets with lead.
But the person who tracks condor survival for Arizona Game and Fish sees the issue much differently.
Voluntary measures are working, she said.
Kathy Sullivan has seen 80 percent to 90 percent of hunters headed for the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon either accept free non-lead ammunition from Game and Fish or hand the state agency gut piles from successful hunts when lead was used.
The agency disposes of gut piles in the landfill.
"The problem is that the condors are going into Utah in the hunting season," Sullivan said, where there is no voluntary program to limit lead in the meat they might eat.
Arizona's condors head to Utah for sheep-ranching season, then stay there through hunting season, Sullivan said.
She hopes voluntary measures to limit use of lead ammo in Utah can be introduced this fall.
California prohibits lead ammunition in places where condors live.
California condors are endangered and were re-released back into the wild in 1996, following a breeding program.
There are 78 of them in Arizona today, including two hatched in the wild this year.
The Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Center for Biological Diversity have filed letter indicating intent to sue.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at email@example.com.