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11:34 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Hunting opponents using lead ammo issue as cover

It's no secret that anti-hunting groups are trying to use the lead issue involving the threatened California condor to stop hunting on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The condors, which were transplanted and introduced in the Vermillion Cliffs region in northern Arizona, are classified as experimental and non-essential to the recovery of the species.

But almost since Day One, these groups have tried to stop hunting by alleging that hunter's lead bullets were responsible for the problems of these birds ingesting lead.

However, the voluntary use of non-lead bullets by Arizona hunters has been very successful, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"Arizona's voluntary lead reduction program has been well supported by hunters, and they deserve a thank you for continuing sportsmen's proud tradition of being the nation's first wildlife conservationists," said Kathy Sullivan, the department's condor program coordinator.

The opponents see it another way. They have tried suing the Bureau of Land Management to stop the use of lead bullets for hunting in northern Arizona.

That lawsuit didn't pan out, so now these groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service, saying that lead bullets have to be banned in order to protect the condors from lead poisoning.

But there are several issues that must be addressed.

First of all, when the condors were reintroduced, it was agreed that as an experimental population, there would never be any action regarding the birds that would impact sport hunting, hunters, ranching or ranchers.

Now the anti-hunters have gone back on that agreement.

Everyone knows the true reason for all of this is to stop hunting as we know it. After all, if you can eliminate the ammo, then what use is a gun? It's just a piece of steel.

Arizona has done a good job with this voluntary non-lead program. Up to 90 percent of the hunters on the North Kaibab don't use lead bullets anymore.

The reason why is clear - Game and Fish will give each permit holder a free box of this very expensive non-lead ammo to use on their hunts.

For those who still use lead bullets, if you bring in the gut pile in a bag you get a chance to win some neat prizes in a raffle they hold after the hunting season is over.

I've often wondered what will happen when Game and Fish stops giving away this ammunition.

Will Arizona sportsmen still use that non-lead ammo, which costs $50-100 a box, depending on the caliber?

I sure don't know the answer to that one.

The real problem is that condors are flying into neighboring Utah to search for food, and Utah has no plan in place right now to reduce the lead that condors might be getting from scavenging gut plies. I understand that Utah is starting a program similar to Arizona's, but that will take some time and money to get going.

In the meantime, Arizona continues to be the leader in this non-lead ammo issue and hunting opponents are continuing to do what they always do - sue, and sue some more.