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Conservationists sue to protect condors ... from lead poisoning

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FLAGSTAFF - A group of conservationists sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency June 7 to force regulation of the leading killer of endangered California condors.

The group contends lead poisoning from ammunition frequently kills not only condors but also eagles, swans, loons and other birds that feed on dead animals in the wild. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asks the EPA to start a public process to determine whether that ammunition can be controlled but does not outright ask for a ban.

"The agency refuses to address this needless poisoning," said Jeff Miller, of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "We've removed toxic lead from gasoline, paint and most products exposing humans to lead poisoning. Now it's time to do the same for hunting ammunition to protect America's wildlife."

The EPA declined to comment, citing pending litigation. But the agency responded in April to a petition filed by the groups, saying it does not have the authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate lead ammunition. Furthermore, the agency said the petition was similar to one filed by some of the groups in 2010 and declined to review the latest one.

Miller said the agency is mistaken, and the groups now want a judge to decide.

On the same day the lawsuit was filed, Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester added his "Sportsmen's Act of 2012" to the massive federal farm bill. The act would protect hunters' rights to use lead ammo. It also would allow the import of polar bear trophies from Canadian hunts. It's a scaled-down version of the Sportsmen's Heritage Act that Republicans including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, approved in the House. That House act also would allow recreational shooting on all federal lands, and prevent the president from creating national monuments without consent from states' governors and legislatures.

Lead poisoning has long been recognized as the top killer of the condors, which once numbered in the thousands across North America but were nearly extinct in the early 1980s. The final 22 were captured in California, and a breeding program started. Today, there 405 condors flying free and in captivity.

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