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Game preserve fires the first shot in bid to avoid poisoning condors

Ban will keep birds from ingesting lead bullets in carrion.

February 24, 2007|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

The president of California's largest private game preserve announced Friday that he would ban the use of lead bullets on the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch because he's convinced that the ammunition is poisoning the endangered California condor.

Some leading environmentalists hailed the voluntary ban, saying that they hoped it would provide momentum for a statewide prohibition on the bullets.

Robert A. Stine, president and chief executive of Tejon Ranch Co., said recent studies led him to conclude that condors feeding on the remains of animals shot by hunters using lead bullets were ingesting fragments of the metal and becoming sick or dying as a result of lead poisoning.

"We decided we could and should do something about it," said Stine, whose ranch about 60 miles north of Los Angeles caters to more than 1,800 hunters annually. "We decided the time to act is now."

The ban will go into effect for the 2008 hunting season, he said. Stine said he expects most hunters using rifles for larger game will begin using copper bullets and that those shooting smaller game or fowl will use steel pellets.

The ranch's sprawling acreage is home to deer, elk, antelope, wild pigs, wild turkeys, doves and quail. It is also a roosting and foraging ground for the condor, which was nearly extinct two decades ago but has made a modest comeback in recent years.

Many of the birds have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood when they have been captured and tested at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feeding stations in recent years. Some have died. This is of particular concern because there are only about 70 of the birds living in the wild in California, said Steve Thompson, an official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Glenn Olson, vice president and executive director of Audubon California, called the planned Tejon ban "a huge deal."

"No single step is more important for the condor's future than banning the use of lead ammunition within the condor's range," he said of the majestic bird of prey, which can be found from Magic Mountain to Big Sur to Sequoia National Park in Northern California.

More important, Olson said, the decision may influence the debate about whether to place more restrictions on the use of lead bullets in the remaining condor habitat or even statewide.

Such proposals are expected to be addressed by the California Fish and Game Commission in a meeting next month.

"This really primes the pump," Olson said.

scott.glover@latimes.com

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