California Expands Lead Ban to Further Protect Endangered Condors

The California State Fish and Game Commission voted Dec. 7 to adopt strong regulations to restrict the use of lead ammunition in California to protect the endangered California Condor. The Commission voted to implement AB 821, legislation signed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October to prohibit the use of lead ammunition in the range of the California Condor, but went further by restricting additional hunting activities using lead ammunition.

Photo: Greg R. Homel
Photo: Greg R. Homel, Natural Elements Productions,


“The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to expand these preventative measures puts the California Condor back on the road to recovery,” said Dr. Michael Fry, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Advocacy.


The Fish and Game Commission regulations cover both the current and historic range of the California Condor, a broader area than AB 821. All hunting of big game, small game mammals, and game birds in the affected area will require the use of non-lead ammunition.
In a surprising decision, the Commission also expanded the non-lead requirement to include .22 caliber rim fire ammunition, for which there are currently no commercially available non-lead bullets. Commissioners voiced hope that ammunition manufacturers would now have a strong incentive to produce and market non-lead .22 caliber bullets.


“There have been 276 documented cases of lead poisoning of California Condors since 2000, and a dozen deaths possibly linked to lead,” said Dr. Fry. “There is also concern about the health impacts of lead on other species of wildlife like eagles and vultures that feed on carcasses, and humans who eat game that has been shot with lead bullets.”


The Commission expressed concern for other species by requesting a study of lead contamination in other birds of prey, including eagles, hawks, and vultures, as well as scavenging mammals such as bobcats, coyotes, bears, and mountain lions. The concern is that if other species are being injured by lead, California would extend the non-lead hunting regulations state-wide. Non-lead shotgun ammunition has been required for waterfowl hunting since 1990, due to poisoning of waterfowl and of eagles that eat crippled birds. The recent ban makes California the first state to require non-toxic ammunition for hunting big game.


AB 821 mandates non-toxic bullets for big-game hunting in condor habitat and will significantly reduced the risk of lead poisoning of condors in California. Governor Schwarzenegger, a tough advocate of hunting and shooting sports, signed the bill over the vocal objections of the National Rifle Association and hunting groups, leading many environmental groups to praise the strong stance he has taken to protect condors from lead poisoning. Hunting will still be allowed in condor habitat, but only with commercially available non-lead bullets widely available for sale in California and by mail order. Contact Dr. Michael Fry.