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Getting the lead out: Sen. John McCain goes to bat for the condor

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Sen. John McCain on Tuesday applauded voluntary efforts in Arizona and Utah to protect the California condor by supplying hunters with non-lead ammunition.

The Arizona Republican said lead poisoning contributes to 50 percent of deaths among the majestic, yet endangered, birds.

The senator recently met with wildlife officials at Grand Canyon National Park, where “there was a firm realization that hunters can and do have the greatest positive influence on the condor when they are armed with information about the need to reduce lead exposure in wildlife.”

“I want to be clear that I do not support the effort to ban lead ammunition being considered in California,” Mr. McCain added in a prepared statement. “It is unfair to the sporting community that has a vested interest in enjoying healthy game populations. It is also unclear that there would be demonstrable benefit to the condor.”

Condors tend to ingest lead bullet fragments and shot remaining in game carcasses and gut piles, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The fact that lead shot tends to fragment into numerous pieces before exiting game such as a deer or coyote only exacerbates the problem.

“Since condors are group feeders, and only one or two lead fragments or pellets can cause lead toxicity, one animal carcass or gut pile containing lead fragments or lead shot has the potential to poison several condors,” the department says on its website.

He said government should push voluntary incentive programs to promote non-lead ammunition, and that ammo manufacturers and distributors should raise awareness, too.

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