Condor group wants to get more hunters to avoid lead bullets

An effort to bring one of the world’s largest birds back from the verge of extinction is expanding after northern Arizona and southern Utah received some success in getting deer hunters to use ammo not made of lead.

A group working to protect the endangered California condor is setting its sights on small-game and varmint hunters as result continues to threaten the birds that feed on animal carcasses. The group has enlisted the help of a social scientist to target its messaging to a broader set of hunters that are not always after big game.

“We have hope for success, it all comes down to this change in hunter tradition — and to change your traditions takes a long time, ” said Chris Parish of the Peregrine Fund, which tracks the condors in the Southwest U.S. “It’s not an overnight change.”

The condors nearly went extinct in the 20 th century because of lead poisoning, hunting and habitat demolition. The last of them were rounded down and bred in captivity to recover the species. The Southwest population started with six birds released from Vermilion Cliffs in 1996, and it now stands at 82.

The rest of the roughly 450 condors are held in captivity or flying free in California and Baja, Mexico. The birds with wingspans of up to 10 feet( 3 meters) also take short journeys into southern Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and near the Utah-Wyoming line.

The recovery group previously said it would consider objective the program to reintroduce condors to the wild if it didn’t see deteriorations in extreme leading exposures and lead-related demises by the end of 2016.

But exposures have remained the same, with an unexpected spike in 2012, according to a five-year review of the program released this month. Lead-related demises didn’t improve either.

Lead poisoning accounts for the majority of condor demises, with predation being the second-leading cause.

Despite that, different groups said it hasn’t exhausted its efforts and wants to forge ahead with new education efforts, targeting those who hunt coyotes and bobcats or who put down feral or domestic animals and leave the carcasses open to condors and other scavenging birds.

Arizona and Utah have mailed letters to deer hunters, given them free non-lead ammo and hosted shooting clinics for hunters to test the feeling of copper bullets. The nations have offered raffles for those willing to drop off animal carcasses. The programs are voluntary.

Some hunters observed non-lead bullets weren’t offered in every caliber or they had ammunition that was customized for their rifles. They also have said copper bullets are more expensive and less effective than leading. Utah gives out more vouchers to get free non-lead ammo than are redeemed.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department expended $35,000 for a study on messaging that they are able to resonate with hunters, said Allen Zufelt, its California condor coordinator. That includes people who opportunistically kill a rabbit or other small animals while target shooting. The analyze will likely be done soon, he said.

“Once we learn how to do the outreach, we’ll start, ” Zufelt said.

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